Rugby World Cup 2019: Five key areas that could decide Wales against South Africa

Injuries have ebbed the mood in Wales, but there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Here are five key areas that could decide the semi-final

Sam Peters
Saturday 26 October 2019 12:44
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Rugby World Cup 2019 in numbers

As injuries have mounted for Warren Gatland’s men in an unwanted repeat of their 2015 World Cup campaign, the mood of optimism for Welsh supporters has begun to ebb away somewhat.

The loss of star players Liam Williams (ankle) and Josh Navidi (hamstring) following their side’s unspectacular quarter-final win over France means Gatland’s men are now without five first-choice starters with Gareth Anscombe, Taulupe Faletau and Ellis Jenkins already ruled out before the tournament began.

But despite a heightened sense of pessimism, there remain plenty of reasons to be cheerful as Gatland’s men have beaten the Springboks no fewer than five times in their last six encounters, including the last four games in succession.

Here are five key areas which could decide the second semi final on Sunday, against England after their upset over champions New Zealand.

Boss the breakdown

The last time these sides met in November last year Cardiff Blues flanker Ellis Jenkins produced one of the all-time great back-row performances as Wales ran out 20-11 winners.

With a low centre of gravity, superb technique, bravery and perfect timing, Jenkins pilfered South African ball with indecent regularity as Wales completely dominated the Springboks at the breakdown.

Cruelly for Jenkins and Wales, he ended the game being carried off on a stretcher with a knee ligament injury which would rule him out of the World Cup. But his performance that day showed the Springboks towering back row trio of Pieter Steph du Toit, Duane Vermuelen and Siya Kolisi can be undermined.

With Justin Tipuric and Aaron Wainwright already among the players of the tournament, Wales will be seeking to achieve maximum breakdown disruption once again.

Defend like demons

Wales against South Africa will see two fierce defences clash

South Africa bashed the brilliance out of Japan in the quarter final with a thunderous defensive effort which saw their rush defence teetering on the edge, and often across, the off-side line. Their line speed denied Japan’s talented three-quarters breathing space and suffocated the life out of the host nation.

If there is one team in the tournament who can match the Springboks power game in defence on it is Wales. Shaun Edwards has forged his reputation on building defensive structures and, although porous at times on their way to the semi-final, including leaking two early tries against France in the quarter final, Wales have the wherewithal to use their defence as a means of attack on Sunday.

Fit again Jonathan Davies, who missed the quarter final with a knee injury, will be key to Wales’ chances both in attack and defence.

Silence Springbok wonder wings (and bombard Le Roux)

When South Africa’s wonderfully fleet-footed winger Cheslin Kolbe was ruled out of contention on Thursday, Wales fans with short memories may have thought their rivals had lost their attacking threat.

Even without the injured Kolbe, South Africa have potency out wide, particularly through Mapimpi (Getty)

But Kolbe’s replacement S’bu Nkosi is a more than adequate replacement with the potential to be one of the most potent finishers on the planet. With eight tries in 10 Tests the 23-year-old Nkosi has already proved he can cut it on the international stage and his partnership with Makozole Mapimpi may be raw, but what it lacks in experience, it makes up for in pace, power and finishing potency.

Following his superb quarter-final brace, Mapimpi now has 13 tries in 12 Tests and Wales more experienced wing duo George North and Josh Adams will have their work cut out on Sunday.

With Springbok full back Willie Le Roux failing to impress so far in the tournament, Wales may be best served targeting the most experienced of South Africa’s back three.

Keep a lid on it (discipline)

Both sides can consider themselves fortunate not to have seen a man sent off in the quarter final. Springbok prop Tendai Mtawarira escaped with a yellow card for a tip tackle against Japan while Wales replacement Ross Moriarty admitted he feared the worst when his forearm clattered Gael Fickou across the chin just minutes after coming on against France.

With a record number of red cards having been shown so far in the tournament, and a World Rugby clampdown on high tackles in full effect, both sides will need to keep a lid on their emotions and ensure perfect tackling technique to avoid a repeat of Sam Warburton’s match defining red card at the same stage in 2011.

Roll back the years, Leigh

With four wins from four against the Springboks in recent times there is no reason Wales can’t continue their winning run to reach what would be the nation’s first ever World Cup final.

The loss of full back Williams is undeniably a significant blow but his replacement Leigh Halfpenny has been a magnificent servant for Wales down the years and is more than capable of stepping up when duty calls.

Halfpenny appears to have overcome the concussion problems which dogged him last season and the 30-year-old will be hoping his 85th Wales cap proves to be among his most fruitful.

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