NELSPRUIT, South Africa—Wales goes into Saturday’s second and final test against South Africa knowing it must match its opponents’ force in the contact area if it is to avoid another heavy battering.
Coach Warren Gatland’s side found itself on the back foot throughout its 38-16 defeat in Durban last week, as South Africa’s muscular back row set up the solid base from which fullback Willie le Roux created three tries and scored another.
Gatland has attempted to shore up his own back row in the wake of that drubbing, replacing Aaron Shingler with the bulkier Josh Turnbull, while his other change sees 21-year-old prop Samson Lee come in for Adam Jones.
It was widely expected that Jones, 33, would be dropped to the bench after he was replaced by Lee just 32 minutes into the first test, and Gatland has gone further by leaving both Jones and Shingler out of the match day squad altogether.
Meanwhile, Lee has been earmarked as a World Cup prospect by Gatland, with the Scarlets player leapfrogging Rhodri Jones in the queue after the latter had finished the Six Nations as Wales’ starting tighthead prop.
“It’s a great opportunity for Samson and Josh and they deserve the chance after impressing last weekend,” Gatland said.
It seems unlikely the changes will fully address the shortcomings that were so evident in the first test, but they do increase Wales’ depth heading toward next year’s World Cup. Regular flanks Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric have also missed the tour through injury.
“We were disappointed with last week’s display but we want to finish the season with a big performance and show what we know we are capable of,” the coach said.
South Africa has also made two changes in its pack, with prop Tendai Mtawarira and lock Flip van der Merwe replacing Gurthro Steenkamp and Bakkies Botha.
Coach Heyneke Meyer has also brought in cover at centre in the wake of Francois Steyn’s decision to walk away from international rugby and Juan de Jongh’s withdrawal through illness, with Wynand Olivier going straight onto the bench after his addition to the squad.
Veteran lock Victor Matfield will pass former captain John Smit’s record as the most capped Springbok in history when he takes the field for his 112th test.
The 37-year-old made his debut back in 2001 and announced his retirement from the game after the 2011 World Cup, only to return at the beginning of this year.
“I said to Victor that his comeback mustn’t be about records or anything like that. I wanted him to help out by coming off the bench, and now he is playing 80 minutes and is captain,” Meyer said.
“I am very proud of what he has achieved it is remarkable that he can come back so well after two years in retirement. It is a storybook ending for him, although hopefully it isn’t the end because I expect a lot more from him.”