The possibility of a maiden series victory on South African soil will put some ice in the veins of the Welsh – as well as the Springboks – as the teams lock horns in the third and final Test in Cape Town on Saturday.
A less than attractive affair saw the Welsh level things up last weekend as they left the pitch in Bloemfontein one point to the good against a much changed Springbok outfit:
This week, Jacques Nienaber rang the changes once more – 11 in total – and it will be a particularly significant day for two Springboks who will achieve revered milestones. Hooker Bongi Mbonambi with run out for his 50th international cap while stalwart lock Eben Etzebeth becomes the seventh Springbok in history to amass 100 caps. Etzebeth’s achievement is made all the more significant by virtue of the fact that he is the youngest player ever to do so.
“It is amazing just to be a part of everything. This will be something I never would have dreamt of. It is just an amazing situation to be in,” Etzebeth said earlier this week. “It is difficult to put into words.”
Springbok boss Jacques Nienaber praised the duo but noted the importance of maintaining focus on the task ahead.
“We are very proud of Eben and Bongi for their achievements, although it would be remiss of us as a team for that to out-shadow the fact that we need to win on Saturday to seal the series against Wales,” said Nienaber.
“Wales have shown over the years and in the last two matches that they are real fighters, and it will require a top-class performance from us on Saturday to register a victory and ultimately clinch the series.
“That said, Eben and Bongi have been true stalwarts to Springbok rugby, and we hope that we can make this a special occasion for them. No-one wants to remember losing their 100th or 50th Test, so we need to do everything we can to win the match.”
Of his team selection Nienaber said: “We selected a team and player combinations that we think will be the best for this specific game.
“We had an honest discussion with the players telling them what we require from them this weekend and what we would like to see in terms of their performance and hopefully they can produce the goods and we can get the desired result.
“We have high standards as a team, and we would like to maintain that and build momentum with a challenging season lying ahead.”
Nienaber expects another brave effort from Wales and said: “We pointed out from the outset of the series that Wales will be desperate and they showed that in the last two weeks.
“We are expecting another hard grind against them and the fact that they will be playing for their first series victory ever in South Africa will make them even more desperate to push us to the limit this weekend, so we know it will be an epic battle.
“That said, we are also playing in what is essentially a final for us and we know that we need to pitch up on the day and deliver a quality 80-minute performance to emerge victorious.”
Turning to the Wales camp, Josh Adams returns on the wing to complete a back three of himself, Louis Rees-Zammit and Liam Williams.
After sweating on the fitness of captain and flyhalf Dan Biggar, the 32 year-old was passed fit and will don the number 10 jersey for the decider.
“Most people had written us off before we left Wales and to be in this position with an opportunity to win this series it’s a great position for us to be in,” said Wales Head Coach Wayne Pivac. “It’s fantastic that there’s something to play for in this Test match.
“However it’s been a tough training week because we’ve been a bit banged up as you’d expect after two very physical Test matches. So to have the majority of the squad that we arrived on these shores with available is a pretty good state to be in and we are really looking forward to the weekend.
“The atmosphere on match day has been excellent. South African fans are very loud, they support their side and they let you know what they are thinking of the occasion. It’s an environment that tests you and the players have so far stood up in both matches.
“We’re looking forward to another full house and another crowd that really gets behind the occasion and makes it a special one.”
Significantly, George North is set to overtake Stephen Jones as the most capped Wales back of all time with 105 appearances.
“It’s fantastic for George,” Pivac continued. “He’s worked really hard to come back from a major injury and to break that record is no mean achievement. I’m looking forward to seeing George out there on Saturday and hope he can have a stormer for us.”
Dan Biggar spoke on the possibility of his side making history by becoming the first Welsh outfit to leave South Africa with a series victory in hand.
“I don’t think many people believed in us when the plane touched down a few weeks ago,” he said. “If I’m being perfectly honest maybe we needed that performance in Pretoria to install some belief in the squad as well.
“I think where the squad is from when we first landed to now, I think there’s every belief in the squad that we can win on Saturday. It was really important we started the tour really well.
“There’s been some tough ones to take over the years against these guys and I’m hoping on Saturday we’ve built up enough momentum and belief in the squad to get it over the line. I’ve said it before, but we always seem to come back and put up a fight after a difficult result or tough performance.
“It would be really nice to do it for everyone back home but from a selfish point of view it would be nice to do it for ourselves as well because we copped a fair bit of stick after the Six Nations.
“What I’ve said to the boys we go out there with no pressure on your shoulders, go out there, give it everything, and try to apply as much pressure as we can on South Africa and see how they respond,” he said.
“It’s a huge occasion whether you are at the start of your career with boys like Tommy, and Sam or you are at the end part of your career like myself it’s a huge occasion. I think we’ve got to make sure we really enjoy it.
“We need to play with a bit of freedom, play sensibly, play disciplined but go out there and pile into everything. Hopefully, we can lie on the beach next week and the atmosphere on the beach will be a bit brighter than if we don’t get it done.
“It’s been a good tour, and I’ve absolutely loved it. We’ve really come together as a group, played some decent rugby, mixed it up and not taken a backwards step.
“I’m really proud of the group whatever happens on Saturday.”