Match Preview: South Africa vs Wales

South Africa begin their defence of the Webb Ellis Trophy with a tough first up match against the grit and flair of Warren Gatland’s Wales in the capital, 9:30 local time. The competitive nature of Pool D will leave both teams anxious to record a win, although South Africa enter the game as hot favourites having lost the Welsh just once in twenty-four matches. The South Africans look set to continue their favoured, clinical tournament style of play that has brought them two titles in four attempts; Wales have brought an expansive-minded team to New Zealand, mixing a punishing back line with a mobile forward pack in a squad that will look to attack their African counterparts with ball in hand.

South Africa field a team featuring over 700 caps in a stable line-up that will prove hard to stop on the front foot. Injury robs Pieter de Villiers of his favoured forward pack, with Bakkies Botha a high-profile absence due to injury; however the Springboks call on veterans Victor Matfield and captain John Smit to lead a forward assault backed by a five/two split on the bench. The back line looks ominously familiar to the class of 2007, with fullback Frans Steyn returning from European competition to complete a defensive jigsaw that complements the phenomenal kicking skills of Morne Steyn.

Sam Warburton captains his country at just 22 years old from the open-side flank, charged with leading a young pack into one of the toughest challenges in world rugby. The Welsh could well miss the experience of Ryan Jones and Gareth Jenkins, both of whom are missing from the 22 altogether; conversely a youthful outlook could be the key to surprising their more experienced counterparts. Having lost the experience of Stephen Jones to a calf injury, Gatland opts instead for the creative influence of Rhys Preistland at fly-half to provide the spark for a world class backline. James Hook will share playmaking responsibility with Priestland from fullback, while the classy Shane Williams and teenage sensation George North will hope to benefit out wide from the open style of play evident in recent Welsh performances.

Players to watch:
Bismarck du Plessis is only denied a starting role by the captaincy of John Smit and will be called upon to rampage through a tiring Welsh pack. Out wide, speedster Bryan Habana is searching for a record-breaking 39th test try and will look to prove his place in history.

George North has scored six tries in his last eight internationals despite his tender years and has been tipped as a potential star of the tournament; a fine performance against the current champions would could fast-track North to stardom.

South Africa: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Substitutes: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Johann Muller, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Butch James.

Wales: 15 James Hook, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Danny Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Paul James
Substitutes:16 Lloyd Burns, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Bradley Davies, 19 Andy Powell, 20 Tavis Knoyle, 21 Scott Williams, 22 Leigh Halfpenny.