TOKYO, 26 Oct - A preview of the World Cup semi-final between Wales and South Africa, which kicks-off at 18:00 on Sunday at International Stadium Yokohama.
The Big Picture
Liam Williams and Cheslin Kolbe are two of the most outstanding attacking talents in world rugby. Sadly, the closest they will get to the action on Sunday is watching the game from the stands.
Injury has cruelly wrecked their hopes of appearing in a semi-final. As far as Wales full-back Williams is concerned, it is the end of the tournament. South African speedster Kolbe will be hoping he recovers from his ankle injury to appear in the final - if his team get there.
The absence of the duo could lead to a change in tactics on Sunday, with Wales drafting in the more defensive but hugely experienced Leigh Halfpenny.
🚨 Team announcement 🚨— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 25, 2019
Here is the @WelshRugbyUnion team to face @Springboks in the semi-final at #RWC2019. What do you make of this team?
Find out where you can watch at https://t.co/z0BgdPYBjN#WALvRSA #WebbEllisCup #RWCYokohama pic.twitter.com/5shhhSkWUb
"It will probably be a kicking fest," said Wales head coach Warren Gatland. "They kicked 30 times against Japan so we have got to handle their game.
"It won't be the prettiest game in the world. Kolbe is a big loss to them with his ability to score tries and his footwork.
"We were probably going to target him aerially anyway. At this stage of the tournament, you are always going to lose a couple of quality players, and in them losing Kolbe and us losing Liam Williams, it's one each in terms of that."
Historically, Wales have a poor record against the Springboks with just six wins in 35 attempts. The first did not come until 1999 and they have never triumphed on South African soil.
But Wales have won the past four in a row and five of the past six meetings. Significantly, the only defeat was the RWC 2015 quarter-final at Twickenham, pictured top.
The Springboks, who lost eight tests in 2016, have been transformed by the arrival of coach Rassie Erasmus. A former loose forward and deep thinker about the game, he knows all about the value of kicking: he was a member of the Springboks side that lost the RWC 1999 semi-final to eventual tournament winners Australia. The decisive six points in that extra-time defeat all came via the boot, including a 48-metre drop goal by Stephen Larkham - the first of his career.
Since taking over last year, Erasmus has got the South African pack back to its fearsome best, allied with an experienced half-back combination.
And, as Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards highlighted, they have "blowtorch" speed in the backs, where winger Makazole Mapimpi has been scoring tries for fun in 2019.
Having lost the opening game of the tournament to holders New Zealand, Erasmus’s side have progressed quite comfortably and are seen as favourites to win despite their recent record against Wales, who are also ranked higher in the world.
"We knew we lost to the No.1 team in the world, and we knew it was four minutes where they scored two tries, and we just had a lapse in concentration," said Erasmus,
"But the bottom line is that we lost against the best team in the world, and we didn’t press panic buttons after that. We just kept on working, and we are currently sitting pretty to have a solid chance of reaching the final."
Form guide (most recent matches first)
South Africa: WWWWL
Played 35 - Wales W6, South Africa W28, D1
In the spotlight
For several years, Leigh Halfpenny would have been one of the first names put down on any Wales rugby team sheet. Then Liam Williams emerged and, with his greater attacking instincts, has taken the No.15 jersey.
Halfpenny has been limited this World Cup but has not been thrust into a semi-final. He can expect many kicks to be sent spiralling in his direction.
But with 84 Wales caps and three British and Irish Lions tours to his name, the 30-year-old is one of the best positional full-backs in the world and solid in defence. He will also add an option of kicking penalties from long-range.
It would be ironic if he landed a monster effort on Sunday, eight years after his attempt from distance fell agonisingly just short and Wales went out of the semi-finals to France.
"He is defensively probably the best full-back in the world in terms of his aerial game and coverage defensively," said Gatland. "We had a long debate about whether we started Leigh in the first place and potentially move Liam to the wing.
"There was a long discussion about that so Leigh was probably unlucky he was not in the team in the first place."
The @Springboks team to face @WelshRugbyUnion in the second #RWC2019 semi-final in #RWCYokohama— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 24, 2019
Just one change from the side that beat hosts Japan 26-3 at Tokyo Stadium last Sunday.#WALvRSA pic.twitter.com/Olh9xP2Sj6
In addition to the Halfpenny-Williams switch, Wales have made two changes from the starting XV who managed their best World Cup comeback to beat France 20-19 in the quarter-finals.
Centre Jonathan Davies, who was named in the original team against Les Bleus but pulled out, has recovered from a knee injury to replace Owen Watkin while Ross Moriarty takes over at number eight from Josh Navidi, whose World Cup is also over after a hamstring tear in that match.
South Africa have made just one change from the side that outmuscled Japan 26-3, with the injured Kolbe being replaced on the wing by S'Busiso Nkosi.
Stats & Trivia
Alun Wyn Jones will play his 142nd test match for Wales (133) and the British & Irish Lions (9), moving level with Italy’s Sergio Parisse. Only New Zealand’s Richie McCaw has played more tests with 148 appearances.
South Africa winger Mapimpi has nine international tries in eight matches in 2019: only Japan's Kotaro Matsushima and England's Jonny May have scored the same this year. He is also the joint top try-scorer in the tournament with five alongside Wales’s Josh Adams and Matsushima.
"I have two games to go as the Wales coach and I want to enjoy these last two games. For us to get to the final of a World Cup, it will be unbelievable given the small playing numbers we have in Wales, the four teams. We feel like we continually punch above our weight.” - Warren Gatland, Wales coach.
"I’ve definitely taken a few sleeping tablets for a few nights to make sure if it’s the right call or not. It is a bit of a chance you are taking, but there have been many games which were close games, where you sit with an extra backline player and you don’t use him.” - Bok coach Rassie Erasmus on the decision for a 6-2 forwards-dominated split for his bench.