Wales, South Africa fight it out for World Cup final spot
Six Nations champions Wales lock horns with southern hemisphere kings South Africa on Sunday as they bid to reach their first Rugby World Cup final at coach Warren Gatland’s send-off tournament.
Injuries have not been kind to the Welsh but they have enjoyed a hold over South Africa in recent times, winning their last four Tests against the Rugby Championship title-holders.
However, they are yet to beat the Springboks at the World Cup, after losing to them in the pool stage in 2011 and again in the 2015 quarter-finals, where Fourie du Preez snatched victory with a last-gasp try.
The winner of Sunday’s semi-final in Yokohama will face Eddie Jones’s England, who stunned two-time defending champions New Zealand 19-7 on Saturday to halt their 18-match winning streak in the competition.
Attack coach Stephen Jones, who joined the team after predecessor Rob Howley was sent home over alleged betting irregularities, said Wales would need to be on their toes against South Africa.
“You have to be smart. We are up against wonderful opposition who we respect but also we are confident and comfortable in our own game plan,” said the former Wales and British and Irish Lions fly-half.
“You are fully aware it’s a very physical game,” he added. “We are aware of each other’s game plans.
“We expect the ball to be kicked a huge amount to us and it’s making sure we deal with that threat, and when we have the ball what we do with it.”
– Broken bone –
Both sides have suffered last-minute withdrawals, with Wales full-back Liam Williams and electric Bok winger Cheslin Kolbe ruled out with ankle injuries.
Welsh back-rower Josh Navidi is also out for the tournament, while centre Jonathan Davies has been passed fit after missing the quarter-finals and Hadleigh Parkes has been playing with a broken bone in his hand.
“He is 100 percent fit, he has trained very well and he is hitting the ball well,” Jones said of Davies.
“He is getting into position well and his communications are fantastic. There are no issues there and it’s the green light and he is good to go.”
Wales had to fight their way into the semis, coming from behind to beat 14-man France 20-19, while South Africa had an easier time in dispatching Japan 26-3.
The fresher, powerful Springboks are arguably the favourites against Wales, as they look to cap a turnaround under coach Rassie Erasmus by winning their third world title.
Siya Kolisi, South Africa’s first black captain, is in no doubt about the value of a World Cup win in helping to close the country’s divisions.
“I have seen what winning a World Cup does for our country,” said Kolisi, who was 16 when South Africa last lifted the trophy in 2007.
“I am old enough to remember the 2007 World Cup and I remember what it did for the country then and I know what it will do for the country now.”
He added: “We have many different races in our country, and we have 11 official languages… We have different races in the team as well, which is really beautiful, and I think it’s very important for the country for us to do well, and for us as a team.