A Wales win would seal Boks’ tour
The Springboks go into the final match of their northern hemisphere tour knowing that a victory over Wales will cap a largely triumphant series.
Coach Rassie Erasmus is expected to keep faith in the team that overcame a resilient Scotland, and scrumhalf Embrose Papier has been offered additional game time to solidify his place as the number two in the halfback position — despite Faf du Plessis’s availability.
Papier had a fairly good game against Scotland and, save for a few errant passes and one stray kick over the top, generally offered some zip to the Springboks’ play; he also helped to set up Jesse Kriel’s try.
South Africa have lost their last three games against Wales and, with the men in red on an eight-game unbeaten run, the Boks are rightfully wary of their opponents, who are the third-ranked team in world rugby.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks will persist with a two-pronged attack against Italy on Saturday, despite coach Steve Hansen ringing the changes after last week’s loss to Ireland.
Hansen retained flyhalf Beauden Barrett and fullback Damian McKenzie in a starting line-up featuring 11 changes from the side that ran out in Dublin. He resisted calls to start the in-form Richie Mo’unga.
Instead Mo’unga stays on the bench as Hansen sticks with his strategy of using Barrett and McKenzie as dual playmakers.
The combination has failed to fire so far, and the world champions scraped to a 16-15 win over England, then lost 16-9 to Ireland last week.
Hansen was confident Barrett and McKenzie, with Mo’unga as backup, would improve before next year’s World Cup in Japan.
“That’s the three guys that we see at the moment that would most likely go to the World Cup, so getting them combining, either at the beginning of the game or during the course of the game, is important,” he said. “We haven’t got too many games left so the more we play them together, the better it will be.”
Captain Kieran Read and flanker Ardie Savea were the only other starters retained after the Ireland loss as Hansen opted to give some of his big names a break in the final match of the season against Italy.
Notable selections include Jordie Barrett on the right wing and Dane Coles returning as hooker in a new-look front row that features Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
Hansen expects a strong defensive performance from Italy, saying the All Blacks cannot allow them to dictate terms.
“Our goal will be to create quality set-piece ball and lightning-quick ruck ball, coupled with a real accuracy in our decision-making, so we can use our skill sets accordingly,” he said.
All Blacks squad against Italy
Damian McKenzie, Jordie Barrett, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Waisake Naholo, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Vaea Fifita, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
Reserves: Nathan Harris, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Angus Ta’avao, Brodie Retallick, Dalton Papali’i, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Richie Mo’unga, Rieko Ioane