The day is finally here... everyone is walking around the malls in their green & gold, the bottle stores are running out of beer and brandy as people stock up and the queue at the local Spar is primarily made up of trolleys filled with charcoal and boerewors. Doesn't it just feel right that everything is going back to normal?
Not since 2019, have the Springbok fans been able to see their side in action and the fact that Loftus sold out so quickly, once restrictions were lifted, shows how eager everyone is to get behind the World Champions. Loftus seats 51 762 people and I am sure that 90% of that will be backing the home side, if not more. It is going to be electric when Siya leads the boys out and I can already here 'Impi' blaring over the speakers.
There is a lot of talk of Wales coming to SA out of form and under strength, but we would be fools to underestimate our opponents on the basis of a single loss to Italy at the end of the 6 Nations. We once lost to the Italians too, it hurt and we came back firing, expect the Welsh to do the same. The Boks are also coming out on the back of a season ending loss to England in November last year, so they will need to hit the ground running today to get the season off to a good start.
Wales have named a very strong starting side which will be lead by test centurion and newly appointed captain, Dan Biggar. The Welsh forwards selected to start are a mobile unit and the inclusion of Will Rowlands in the starting side over Alun Wynn Jones, shows they are looking to keep the Bok pack moving around in an effort to tire them. Faletau returns at 8 and he will keep Jasper Wiese's hands full as he is a strong ball carrier who boasts a wealth of experience.
In the Welsh backline they boast a wealth of experience with 5 of the 7 starters all having represented the British & Irish Lions in recent years. There was a surprise switch of George North to 13 and this was likely done in an effort to bring his defensive game in early, so as to prevent the ball spreading to the likes of Kolbe and Mapimpi out wide. Their backline looks deadly and if their forwards can hold it together in the set pieces, especially later on, we will have a serious game on our hands.
The Boks on the other hand come into this fixture as overwhelming favorites, which does worry me a little bit. The management have selected a vastly experienced side in order to hit the ground running. The Bok tight 5 is formidable at this stage, packing a massive punch in the scrums and line-outs, whilst you can be sure they will rely heavily on the driving maul to bully their opponents into submission. The Loose forwards are a slight concern for me and probably the only area in which Wales may have parity.
In the backline, it is for the most part, tried and tested. The hard running and slick passing combo of De Allende and Am are always a handful to contain, and if that wasn't bad enough, Kolbe and Mapimpi will be lurking outside of them. Damian Willemse gets a start at 15, and should bring some stability to the role. He should be expecting to field a lot of high balls though as Biggar and Williams try to pin him back in his half. Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies reunite their old Lions partnership and should excel if the pack provides them with front foot ball. Faf will as always cause havoc with the Welsh forwards.
It is going to be a great contest and the small battles between players and combinations give much to be excited for. I still believe the Boks bench will prove the difference and crack the game open from the 50th minute or so, as the altitude also tires the Welsh.
Kick off: 17:05 - Loftus Versfeld
Referee: Nika Amashukeli
Assistant Referee's: Angus Gardner and Andrew Piardi
TMO: Joy Neville
15 Damian Willemse, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Elrigh Louw, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Willie le Roux
15 Liam Williams, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 George North, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar (captain), 9 Kieran Hardy, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Gareth Thomas
Substitutes: 16 Dewi Lake, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Josh Navidi, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Owen Watkin