IT’S the last Test for the year and judging from the three matches each played in November, this is going to be too close to call, with both having to do away with a few players due to unavailability and injuries.
Wales beat Georgia but only by 13-6 but more significantly it lost the big two – against the Wallabies and the All Blacks.
It was more or less a similar autumn tour for the Springboks, getting hammered in a record 38-3 defeat to Ireland before recovering to beat France by 18-17 in Paris in what was described as an evening best forgotten and then avenging last year’s historic defeat to Italy by winning last weekend’s game 35-6.
Coach Warren Gatland has had to tweak his matchday squad after 11 of his original 36-man squad were out injured and a few more returning to English Premiership commitments because this game falls out of the international window.
Backrower Taulupe Faletau will however be available due a clause he has in his club contract but his club Bath still expects to be fined and maybe have points deducted by Premiership Rugby, as was the case with Northampton in 2013 for allowing George North to play against the Wallabies outside the window.
Those who do not have a clause like Faletau’s – Jamie Roberts of Harlequins, Owen Williams of Gloucester and Tomas Francis of Exeter – had to return to their clubs and will not be available Saturday in Cardiff.
This is one grey area Bath coach Todd Blackadder would like to see clarified, although the club has told him it was prepared and would accept any penalty imposed.
On debut for Wales will be New Zealand-born centre Hadleigh Parkes, who qualifies via residency on the day of the game.
The Springboks too will be missing a few players for the same reason, especially their backrowers.
They have an outstanding record against Wales since the first match in 1906, winning 28 of 32 and drawing 1. Fifteen of the wins were in Wales but the last two autumn Tests were won by Wales – 12-6 in 2014 and 27-13 last year.
There was a commentary in Wales recently which said that Wales needs to show better results, especially with Gatland having coached them for a 10th straight year. He is under contract until the 2019 World Cup.
Gatland’s best years in charge were in 2008 and 2012 when he led Wales to the Grand Slam in the 6 Nations. This was followed by another title in 2013 but since then the record has been average. Last year Wales ended fifth after winning only two of five matches.
Overall, Gatland’s success record with Wales stands at only 50.53 per cent, winning just 47 of 93 matches and drawing two. Eighteen of those wins were against second tier opposition.
In his three years with Ireland from 1998, Gatland had a 47.37 per cent success.
It hasn’t been a great two seasons for Springboks coach Allister Coetzee too and while a win is how the players would like to end 2017 with some pride, it may not be enough to save Coetzee from the chop.
Even if his boys win on Saturday, Coetzee’s success record is below the key performing index set by his employer SA Rugby.
Already there is speculation at home that new SA Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus will take over. Another name is Deon Davids, currently coach of the Southern Kings, a man highly rated by Erasmus.
Most likely Coetzee’s position will be decided at SA Rugby’s general meeting on December 13, with Davids named as coach but technically an assistant to Erasmus.
Whatever the decision, it has to be made soon to give the new coaching panel sufficient time to prepare for the June Tests and especially because the World Cup is only less than two years from now.
Two seasons are what a new coaching team would need to decently develop a stable and experienced squad.