It’s virtually impossible to describe how Wales has made it to the knockout stage considering the sheer number of injuries Gatland and his men have had to endure. Not to mention the pool that they had to first get out of.
But to huge credit to everyone involved with Welsh rugby, they’ve done it with a certain degree of doggedness and mongrel that hosts England never looked like summonsing at their time of need.
It’s fair to say that they’ve had anything but a cruisey ride through the pool stages and South Africa represent a whole different challenge to Wales. If they’re going to have any chance of a result they’re going to have to really lift their game.
The way in which they gutsed out a win against England at the home of rugby as well as a reasonably narrow loss to Australia will give them confidence that they can push the two-time World Champion Springboks.
While the tournament’s become tougher after their first pool match, it’s been the opposite for South Africa who come into the match on the back of three very convincing wins over Samoa, Scotland and the USA respectively.
The loss to Japan in their cup opener was a very timely wake-up call and the whole squad has responded exactly like coach Heyneke Meyer would have hoped.
It’s hard to see where the road to victory will be paved for Wales who has suffered fresh injuries in the backline this week. And since they struggled against Australia’s defence on Saturday evening, they’ll be well and truly up against it this coming Saturday.
With Liam Williams ruled out of the rest of the tournament and his replacement Eli Walker also not fit to play on Saturday, their options are becoming slimmer and slimmer for Gatland – especially in areas where they can potentially trouble the Springboks.
There’ll be a number of areas where the game is won and lost but whoever dominates the breakdown and the set piece will ultimately win the game. Both teams possess very good back rows so the contest at the breakdown will be vicious, however its South Africa that unequivocally possesses a superior set piece.
Wales’ scrum has been absolutely dominated in a number of matches (except for their win against England) and that’s not expected to change against South Africa’s front row of Mtawarira, de Plessis and Malherbe.
Where Wales can target is South Africa’s reasonably experienced inside backs who include Handre Pollard, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel and who have only played a handful of international games together. Expect the likes of Jamie Roberts and George North to run between the 10,12 and 12,13 channel and punching holes in the midfield.
Gatland would have been concerned with his team’s inability to score last week against Australia when they were reduced to 13 men so you can expect some creative rugby.
South Africa’s key player
Bryan Habana – The man is on the cusp of passing Jonah Lomu’s all-time rugby world cup try scoring record and his focus will be to fulfil this against Wales. Habana is capable of creating a try out of absolutely nothing and will pose a real threat to Wales any time he gets his hands on the ball
Wales’ key player
Sam Warburton – The man with the weight of a Nation’s expectations on his shoulders and he will be hoping to be central to their success. Warburton sets the tempo for Wales in defence and is lethal at the breakdown who will look to ensure any possession South Africa is slow and on the back foot.
Battle to watch
Eben Etzebeth vs. Alun Wyn Jones – In the scrum, line out and breakdown both men impose themselves physically and will look to get the upper hand over one another. The quality of possession will prove to be crucial so this match up is likely to be very decisive.
South Africa 24-10 – The Welsh have shown great resolve so far in the competition but Heyneke Meyer’s men will be a bridge too far. This revitalised South Africa look dominant in all areas of the game and will come out on top.