2022 South Africa vs Wales

Wales Rugby Preview: Can Wales Beat Boks In South Africa For First Time?

Wales Rugby Preview: Can Wales Beat Boks In South Africa For First Time?

There's potentially no better way for Wales to address some demons than by having three chances to beat reigning world champion South Africa next month.

Jun 29, 2022 by Briar Napier
Wales Rugby Preview: Can Wales Beat Boks In South Africa For First Time?

Wales is feeling the heat.

The country's national rugby team has been suffering through somewhat of an up-and-down ride since making the semifinals of the 2019 World Cup in Japan, gaining both some silverware and some embarrassing losses in the time that has passed.

Certainly not a slouch in the rugby world as a Tier 1 nation, there still has been some alarm bells on occasion in the Welsh camp with preparations for another World Cup just around the corner. 

There's potentially no better way to absolve those demons than by having three chances to beat the reigning world champions next month - but that's an accomplishment that's much easier said than done.

What's the outlook for Wales as it prepares for three matches against South Africa in its first tour there in eight years? Here's a look at what's at stake for the visitors ahead of all their meetings in July being streamed live on FloRugby:

Needing A Boost

Briefly the world's No. 1-ranked team in 2019, and a country some had pegged as a dark horse to win the 2019 World Cup, Wales has gone through a bit of a slow decline since those historic heights, a place it does not want to be in with another World Cup looming next year. 

A fourth-place finish in Japan was nothing to be ashamed about, but several underwhelming stretches since then have resulted in coach Wayne Pivac's side being ranked ninth in the world (just one above the team's all-time low since the World Rugby Rankings began in 2003) at the time of this writing. 

A thrilling 2021 Six Nations win was followed by a disappointing fifth-place finish the next year, with a shocking 22-21 loss to basement-dweller Italy (which won its first Six Nations match in 40 tries dating back to 2015) in this year's tournament. It put Pivac's job in serious jeopardy. 

Pivac must find some form and fast, but playing the world's No. 1 team in South Africa for a three-test series - in the Springboks' backyard, no less - makes for quite literally no tougher environment possible to do so. 

Producing offense and getting points on the board in bunches has been one of the main keys toward Welsh success over the past year. However, since last July, Wales is 3-0 in tests when it scores over 21 points. In tests the Welsh don't reach that threshold, they're 1-1-7.

Battling The Boks

Wales has never beaten the Springboks in South Africa across 10 tests in the country, with the three-time World Cup winners being responsible for an infamous 96-13 beatdown in 1998 in Pretoria. That still is Wales' largest international defeat. There also was a two-match sweep the last time it toured the country in 2014. 

Yes, the Boks are going to be highly-favored next month in playing the Welsh for a trio of games on home soil, especially because they'll get to play in front of capacity home crowds for the first time since capturing the World Cup three years ago. 

But, to write off the Welsh based on the information available on paper is a grave mistake. In fact, it's Wales that has won five out of its past eight meetings against the Springboks (even going on a four-match winning run between 2016 and 2018), but the South Africans performed when it really mattered, bookending those results between two wins over the Welsh in consecutive World Cup knockout stages in 2015 and 2019. 

How Wales performs in the opening match in front of what should be a raucous and hostile crowd this weekend at Loftus Versfeld could be telling for what's to come, and in a mountainous environment in which all three venues on-tour sit well above 4,000 feet, Wales will have to battle more than just the talented Springboks next month. 

Youth Must Step Up

Wales' core is one of the most celebrated units in its rugby history, but that's also a bit of the problem. Several players that were called up to the 33-man squad and will be making the flight to South Africa are mainstays of the national team who have been around for over 10 years, with some even taking part in both of the country's recent trips to the World Cup semifinals in 2011 and 2019. 

Three players are centurions - with lock and legendary figure Alun Wyn Jones being the most-capped player (150 appearances) in international rugby history - and 14 players are at least 30 with several within a year or two of joining them, giving Wales a team dynamic that is slowly shifting more away from "experienced" and rather just plain "old." 

It makes it even more crucial for Wales to find some emerging talent less than 18 months away from the next World Cup in France, but fortunately for Pivac, there's some intriguing options emerging through the cracks. 

Wing Louis Rees-Zammit already has 16 caps at just 21, earning selection to the heralded British & Irish Lions squad last summer following impressive performances for both his country (scoring four tries at the 2021 Six Nations) and his club, Premiership Rugby side Gloucester. 

However, there's also a late bloomer in the squad: Will Rowlands is coming off a career year in which he won Wales Player of the Year by the Welsh Rugby Writers Association, aged 30, with the towering 6-foot-8 lock being a bright spot in a poor Six Nations. Capped 18 times since his first selection in January 2020, there's clearly a lot Pivac likes in the Dragons second row, and it could earn Rowlands a flight next year to France.