Wales out to defy Springboks rugby history

As much as Sam Warburton dismisses its relevance, the history between Wales and South Africa is too lopsided to ignore.

Two wins over the Springboks in 109 years is not a rivalry.

The second win was just last November; 12-6, all penalties, in Cardiff.

Can Wales take much from that into their Rugby World Cup quarter-final with South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday (Sunday AEDT)?

A little.

First, it has prevented the build up this week from becoming an inquisition on Wales’ miserable streak against the Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies.

Until that win in Cardiff, Wales had lost 22 straight to the big three, choked in too many of them, and coach Warren Gatland was starting to get a little cranky.

Alas, a new streak, of one, has begun following Wales’ inability to score in the second half against an Australia down to 13 men in pool play last weekend.

The second benefit was that 10 of those Wales starters, especially seven of the forwards, have survived to line up in the quarter-final and know what it takes to beat South Africa.

They made the mental jump, although the physical one is unforgettable, too.

Warburton admits the body is in a pretty bad state after playing the Springboks.

The doubt about Wales’ ability to repeat is that South Africa’s team is barely recognisable from November.

Only five starters have survived from that lineup – these Springboks are bigger, faster and younger.

But there are doubts about them, too.

Their record is 4-4 this season, their worst since 2011, the last Rugby World Cup year.

They haven’t beaten anyone ranked in the top six for nearly a year.

The nadir was Japan, a humiliation which also galvanised them.

The Springboks rebounded to win their pool by dismissing Samoa, Scotland and the United States, effectively padding their try-scoring statistics.

This week, the Springboks have only had to worry about which players to leave out, unlike the battered Welsh, who have worried about who to bring in.

In the end, both made minimal changes and both teams are preparing to grind each other down and force penalties.

“When you get to this level, there are not too many weaknesses in teams, so it is not really about trying to exploit a weakness in South Africa, because I don’t really think they have any,” Warburton said.

“It’s more just trying to stop what they are pretty good at. It’s a big job up front, so we have to be very good there.”

South Africa’s overwhelming history in this matchup gives it the edge, but a Gatland-coached team can never be counted out.

South Africa: Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Jesse Kriel, Damian De Allende, Bryan Habana, Handre Pollard, Fourie du Preez (captain); Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger, Francois Louw, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Jannie du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Willem Alberts, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein.

Wales: Gareth Anscombe, Alex Cuthbert, Tyler Morgan, Jamie Roberts, George North, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Taulupe Faletau, Sam Warburton (captain), Dan Lydiate, Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Samson Lee, Scott Baldwin, Gethin Jenkins. Reserves: Ken Owens, Paul James, Tomas Francis, Bradley Davies, Justin Tipuric, Lloyd Williams, Rhys Priestland, James Hook.

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