By Neil Leverett
- Wales face South Africa for place in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final in Yokohama on Sunday
- Warren Gatland’s men reached third semi via controversial late Ross Moriarty try last weekend against France
- Springboks, after opening match defeat to All Blacks have moved through gears, sending hosts Japan home last time out
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN – Ahead of their third semi-final, can Warren Gatland finally lead Wales to the Rugby World Cup final next weekend against a heavyweight Springbok side?
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England watch on in Tokyo
One semi-final down, one to play. After England inflicted a first World Cup defeat on the All Blacks in 12 years to send the All Blacks packing, Wales and South Africa will on Sunday vie for the one remaining finale place on Sunday, at the Yokohama International Stadium in Japan.
Whilst the Welsh look to book their very first place in a Rugby World Cup final, the Springboks will be seeking a first return in 12 years, after beating England in the 2007 final in Paris.
As the added spice to the contest, Wales will be seeking revenge on their opponents after South Africa beat Wales in 2015’s quarter-final via Fourie Du Preez‘s late try, that saw the eventual finalists break Welsh hearts at Twickenham.
But vengeance will not be the main course on the menu on Sunday, with the stakes high and a place in next weekend’s showpiece finale at stake, having booked passage to a World Cup final against England in eight days time will be all that matters.
After contesting two differing quarter-finals last time out, both teams come into the clash having experienced contrasting 80 minutes but will nevertheless remain bullish about their chances of reaching the final.
Whereas last time out Wales needed a late score to get past Wales, it was the Springboks who looked in total command to douse the Japanese flame in their own back yard, and after shutting down the host’s threat from the off in Tokyo, Rassie Erasmus will look for a repeat showing to quell the Welsh offense on the flanks on Sunday.
Even overlooking the quarter-finals, the last two showings from Gatland’s charges has been underwhelming to say the least and – in rather juxtaposed fashion – after South Africa’s defeat to the now dethroned All Blacks to open the tournament, the Springboks have bounded their way to this stage in proceedings and might take some stopping.
Williams blow, Halfpenny redemption?
The Welsh task has been made considerably harder following the news their influential full-back Liam Williams was ruled out for the remainder of the tournament through injury. As a regular fixture in the Gatland era, Wales will look to fill the void created by his absence, but as often the spark and energy in the middle of the park, that will not be an easy feat.
In his stead, Leigh Halfpenny will afforded a rare opportunity in the limelight, and as the man who came within sheer inches of kicking Wales into the 2011 final, the now 30-year-old has his own chance for personal redemption in Yokohama.
Aside from the XV Gatland has named to face South Africa, centre Jonathan Davies is passed fit, as Owen Atkin drops to the bench, whilst winning try scorer last weekend Ross Moriarty comes in for Josh Navidi who was forced off against Les Bleus – in an equally seismic blow for the Welsh having lost their dominant back-row unit.
Boosted with Hadleigh Parkes also given a relative clean bill of health, Dan Biggar has suffered no after-effects of concussion sustained against Uruguay and will retain kicking duties, despite the inclusion of Halfpenny.
Kolbe out, Nkosi in
Whilst Gatland is forced to shuffle his pack, South African coach Rassie Erasmus has been prompted to make just the one change from the win against Japan, with S’busiso Nkosi coming into the starting line-up.
The bigger dent in Springbok hopes comes with winger Cheslin Kolbe ruled out with the same ankle problem the player has nursed throughout the World Cup. Without his electric pace, the South African attack line will rely on Makazole Mapimpi, who scored a brace versus the Brave Blossoms.
With what feels like a watershed moment for both nations, Gatland leads out his men for the second time in Welsh colours in the last four, but one which could be the last time in his stewardship overall with the New Zealander stepping down after the tournament.
For South Africa meanwhile, after winning the Rugby Championship in the summer, victory could elevate the Rainbow nation to newly-discovered heights, with then just a step from winning a third William Webb Ellis trophy. On Sunday in Yokohama, to the victor the spoils.
Wales: Halfpenny; North, J Davies, Parkes, Adams; Biggar, G Davies; Wyn Jones, Owens, Francis, Ball, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Wainwright, Tipuric, Moriarty.
Replacements: Dee, R Carre, D Lewis, Beard, Shingler, T Williams, Patchell, Watkin.
South Africa: Le Roux; Nkosi, Am, De Allende, Mapimpi; Pollard, De Klerk; Mtawarira, Mbonambi, Malherbe, Etzebeth, De Jager, Kolisi (capt), Du Toit, Vermeulen.
Replacements: Marx, Kitschoff, Koch, Snyman, Mostert, Louw, H Jantjies, Steyn.
Wales face South Africa for a place in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final on Sunday morning, kick-off 9 am UK time.
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