So‚ it has come down to this. A depleted Wales and South Africa go into combat in the Principality Stadium for one last time this year‚ in a money-spinner outside the international window‚ well inside the South African summer.
Bok captain Eben Etzebeth admitted to being enthused by the calendar date when he emerged from his slumber on Friday.
“Everybody is happy. It’s the 1st of December. You must be happy if you’re a South African‚” he said.
Before he can get some sun on his back next week he acknowledged that the team needs “one last big effort”. For that he needs to rouse his troops one more time this year‚ and although it is an activity that doesn’t come naturally to him‚ he says it’s easy.
“I don’t think it is ever hard to motivate the guys to play for the Boks. There are some sore and stiff bodies‚” Etzebeth said.
“There are a few guys who had a higher workload over the year rested a bit on Monday but they were back on Tuesday.”
He had help in the motivational speak on Friday. The injured Tendai Mtawarira handed out the team’s jerseys and the poignancy of a player with 98 caps handing out the jerseys at the end of a season in deeply uncertain times would not have been lost on his teammates.
You sense the Boks need to rise to a level higher than the occasion truly demands on Saturday.
Due to the personnel on show the clash may not be one that carries great weight in the steeped rivalry between the respective rugby nations. As ever‚ however‚ when the red jersey carrying the Prince of Wales’s feathers and the green and gold clash‚ there is always something to lose.
This season has been one in which the Springboks tried to restore lost pride and while they made some significant gains‚ their slipups have been ingloriously spectacular.
Wales are in tatters. They’ve missed 11 players through injury through their autumn series. This match presented them the double whammy of injury absentees and clubs laying claim to their assets.
Wales clearly are not the side that beat the Boks here last year. But are the Boks?
“We are in a much better state than last year‚” Etzebeth tried to reassure. “That was the last game and we hadn’t got a victory on tour yet. Now we’ve won on consecutive weekends.”
When asked how he felt about the bookmakers installing his team as favourites Etzebeth went to default setting. “I don’t care what the bookies say.”
Wales – Leigh Halfpenny; Hallam Amos‚ Scott Williams‚ Hadleigh Parkes‚ Steff Evans; Dan Biggar‚ Aled Davies; Taulupe Faletau ‚ Josh Navidi‚ Aaron Shingler; Alun Wyn Jones‚ Cory Hill; Scott Andrews‚ Kristian Dacey‚ Rob Evans. Substitutes: Elliot Dee‚ Wyn Jones‚ Rhodri Jones‚ Seb Davies‚ Dan Lydiate; Rhys Webb‚ Rhys Patchell‚ Owen Watkin.
South Africa – Andries Coetzee; Dillyn Leyds‚ Jesse Kriel‚ Francois Venter‚ Warrick Gelant; Handre Pollard‚ Ross Cronje; Dan du Preez‚ Pieter-Steph du Toit‚ Siya Kolisi; Lood de Jager‚ Eben Etzebeth (captain); Wilco Louw‚ Malcolm Marx‚ Steven Kitshoff. Substitutes: Bongi Mbonambi‚ Trevor Nyakane‚ Ruan Dreyer‚ Teboho Mohoje‚ Uzair Cassiem; Louis Schreuder‚ Elton Jantjies‚ Lukhanyo Am.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès
Kick-off: 4.30pm (SA time)
Source: TMG Digital.