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Damian Willemse of the Springboks in action during the 2022 Castle Lager Incoming Series match between SA and Wales at Loftus Versfeld on July 2 2022 in Pretoria. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/ANTON GEYSER
Damian Willemse of the Springboks in action during the 2022 Castle Lager Incoming Series match between SA and Wales at Loftus Versfeld on July 2 2022 in Pretoria. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/ANTON GEYSER

It is fitting that a series in which the first two matches have been settled in the final minutes and by the finest of margins between two proud rugby nations, will be decided at the death at Cape Town Stadium. 

SA against Wales will have the prime-time television spot on a Saturday of series-deciding matches in the never-ending battle between the northern and southern hemispheres.

New Zealand-Ireland, Australia-England, Argentina-Scotland. From Sydney to Santiago del Estero, from Wellington to Cape Town, the questions have been asked, the lines drawn and the challenge accepted. Will the North rise again? Will the South keep them firmly in what they believe is their place? Will we ever see a weekend of rugby like this again?

For the sake of the future of the sport, we must hope so. It feels like a moment in time, perhaps a peek at what World Rugby is hoping can be achieved with its global Nations Championship plans.

But, to matters at hand. For Wales, further history beckons a week after they won their first match on SA soil, to end a tour in which they were given little hope. For SA, the all-encompassing need to show their world champion pedigree in front of their home fans.

There is also the little matter of ensuring Eben Etzebeth and Bongani Mbonambi celebrate their 100th and 50th Tests, respectively, with a win. 

“For us as South Africans, every Test match is a final because we know how much it means to this country, so that is how we treat it each and every weekend,” said Cheslin Kolbe at the Bok training camp at Arabella.

“I am chuffed to be getting this opportunity to play again, hopefully in a packed stadium, but that isn’t our focus. Our focus is to go out there and deliver, then the result will take care of itself.” 

Wales announced their team on Thursday, two days after the Springboks, making just one enforced change to their starting XV, with last week’s try scorer Josh Adams in for Alex Cuthbert on the left wing. Skipper Dan Biggar cracked the nod over Gareth Anscombe, the hero of Bloemfontein.

It was a big focus for us at training [on Tuesday] when we did our scrummaging, for the hookers to find a comfortable way they can engage over their foot, or put their foot in a good position.
Steven Kitshoff, Springbok prop

The Springboks made 11 changes to their starting XV from Bloem, with Jaden Hendrikse in for Faf de Klerk at No 9 in a team packed with World Cup winners.

One of those, Steven Kitshoff, cast his mind back to2021’s British & Irish Lions series, and the final match at the same stadium. 

“If you think back last year from now, we were in the same scenario, so there is that bit of pressure and it feels like a final,” said Kitshoff, who is on the bench as part of the Bomb Squad.

“Every Test match is of the utmost importance, [but for this one it is] understanding it’s a series-decider. For me, it’s about doing the same preparation I’ve done for every Test match and making sure my ducks are in a row so I can perform on the weekend.” 

The preparation has been a little different as the Springbok forwards have been working on perfecting the “brake foot” law, in which the hooker has to raise his foot before the hit, in their engage technique. It was the cause of several free kicks and penalties in Bloemfontein.

Add to that the concerns about the turf at the DHL Stadium, which has had the propensity to cut up, particularly during scrums.

Fix surface

“It was a big focus for us at training [on Tuesday] when we did our scrummaging, for the hookers to find a comfortable way they can engage over their foot, or put their foot in a good position.

“It is a new law, and the referees have brought it in for player safety and welfare. It’s something we have to adapt to quickly, but hopefully we can find a positive way around it where we can still get that good hit and have a powerful scrum,” Kitshoff said.

“We haven’t played a game there in about three to four weeks, so I am not 100%  sure what the surface looks like at the moment. With the URC it was a bit slippery and certain areas of the field were not in great shape but we were promised by the groundskeepers that they would fix the surface and hopefully it holds up this weekend. 

“Wales have a good set-piece and good scrum. You could see in the second half in Bloemfontein that they gained dominance in certain scrums. I still think it’s going to be a tough battle when it comes to set-pieces and hopefully the surface holds up nicely for both teams to have a full go at each other.

“Even with their injuries, I still think that they have a quality pack.” 

Dominate up front, and the likes of Kolbe can be freed to shimmy his hips and twinkle his toes, but expect to see a tight, set-piece dominant match.

“We have amazing backline players and forwards. It is definitely a team effort. There is a plan in place of what the coaches expect from us, and … we just need to make sure that we can implement that the best we can on the field,” Kolbe said. 

“Of course, we all want to run with the ball and get one-on-one opportunities, but those moments will definitely come as long as we put in the hard work that we get from our forwards.

“That will make us as backline players look like superstars, but mainly, all the hard work is done up front and we just need to implement the plan we have worked out during the week on Saturday.”

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