Wales face ‘ultimate challenge’ in South Africa, Wayne Pivac insists

Wales face Test matches in Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Cape Town

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac is preparing for three Tests against South Africa (David Davies/PA)
Wales head coach Wayne Pivac is preparing for three Tests against South Africa (David Davies/PA)

Wayne Pivac believes that Wales face “probably the ultimate challenge” in tackling world champions South Africa away from home at altitude.

Wales are also on the back of a poor Six Nations campaign that ended with a dismal home defeat against Italy three months ago.

They now face Test matches in Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Cape Town – the opening two encounters will be at altitude – with Wales returning to a country they last visited eight years ago and where they have yet to beat South Africa following 10 previous attempts.

“In Test rugby, you want the ultimate challenge as players and coaches, and this is probably the ultimate challenge with South Africa at altitude and us coming off the back of our Six Nations and where they are at in their game,” Pivac said.

“From our point of view, it is a huge challenge. We are playing the world champions in their own back yard at altitude in the first two Tests in front of their own fans for the first time since they won the World Cup (in 2019).

“In international rugby, if you write anyone off you do it at your peril. It is a Wales team that turns up on the day that South Africa will have to deal with, and we hope that will be a very good one.

“We are certainly going there with things we want to achieve on the tour. I think we will be a step up from where we were in our last match.”

Pivac has added uncapped Scarlets prop Harri O’Connor to his tour squad, meaning that 34 players will board the plane later this week.

Pivac allayed any fitness fears about captain Dan Biggar, who took a blow to his back during Northampton’s Gallagher Premiership play-off defeat against Leicester 10 days ago.

“Dan has had a good break and his medical team has done a good job with him,” Pivac said. “The reports to us have been virtually daily from Dan himself.

“He is in good spirits and he will be fine to go. We are very pleased with where the squad is at.”

On calling up 21-year-old O’Connor, Pivac added: “(Prop) Tomas Francis has just picked up a niggle in his back, so it has been a bit of a problem for him on and off in the season.

“We are just treating that with care – we expect him to be fully fit for the first Test – so it is just a precautionary measure, really, to make sure we have the numbers in training and we can prepare as we need to.”

O’Connor’s selection takes the number of uncapped players to four, with him joining fellow prop Sam Wainwright, Leicester flanker Tommy Reffell and Cardiff number eight James Ratti.

“There is no better learning than going up against the best in the world in any sport, and at the moment, you would have to say the South African scrum has probably shown it has consistently been the best in the world,” Pivac said.

“Their lineout drive is superb, their forward play is probably second to none. They are not world champions for nothing.

“They are very, very good at what they do, so if you are a young guy going on tour and coming up against that, you are going to learn a lot.

“You are going to learn how much work you have got to do to get to that level, or hopefully you are going to go very well and start off what could be a very long career for yourself.”

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