Dan Biggar knows it’s coming. Wales are expecting it. The Springboks have all but telegraphed their intentions.
Johannesburg – Dan Biggar knows it’s coming. Wales are expecting it. The Springboks have all but telegraphed their intentions.
There is a 6-2 split on the Bok bench, head coach Jacques Nienaber opting to field a powerful starting pack with plenty of ammunition in reserve for an onslaught later in the game. At face value, the strategy that the men in Green and Gold will employ is clear: Dominate the Welsh up-front and grind them into submission.
Wales captain Biggar is well aware that this seems to be the stratagem on Saturday in the first Test at a sold out Loftus Versfeld, and on Thursday he revealed what his team must do to negate those bullying tactics.
“Whenever we play South Africa, we always try to keep the ball in hand,” said the Welsh flyhalf from their base in Fourways, north of Johannesburg. “I suppose, when you have a team that knows what their strengths are, you try to avoid that.
“It means, first things first, you have to be disciplined. If you give a team like South Africa 15, 16, 17 penalties; then you are just going to defend driving line-outs all game. If you are inaccurate with your handling and you knock your ball on, it’s going to be scrums all the time.
“For us, it will be making sure we keep the ball on the park, avoid kicking the ball – unless we have to; not giving them any set-pieces; not giving them a chance to set that maul up; and then just being disciplined and accurate when we have the ball.
“All those things link in for us to put pressure on South Africa; as opposed to if we are not accurate in those areas, the pressure is probably going to come back on us through their set-piece game.”
— Springboks (@Springboks) July 1, 2022
The narrative since Wales head coach Wayne Pivac named his touring squad last month, has been that this three match Test series was all but concluded before even the first whistle. The Boks are expected to be too strong and though a tiresome thread, Biggar and Co want to set the record straight, starting this weekend.
“It has been a tough couple of months,” Biggar admitted, referring to a disastrous Six Nations campaign earlier this year.
“I suppose (their objective) it’s to stick two fingers up to people (who doubt their abilities) as well – not to put too fine a point on it. For us as a squad, it’s about building into 14 months’ time (for the 2023 Rugby World Cup). I think people forget; South Africa wasn’t in a great place – was it 18 months before the World Cup? – when they made a change.
“It just proves that one win, or this could be a really big tour for us in terms of getting momentum and belief; and like I said, sticking two fingers up and knowing what we want to achieve and what we are trying to work on.”
Wales have good reason to be optimistic about their chances, despite the recurring story arch, even though they have never won in South Africa.
They have the slightly better record in the last five matches between the two nations, winning three of them. Crucially, none of them were in the country but, nevertheless, they have all been close encounters.
The biggest defeat they have suffered in those Tests, was a five point spread last year when the Boks won 23-18 in Cardiff.