It’s a mountainous task that faces Wales on Sunday as they try to scale the twin peaks of South Africa’s Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager. Probably one hilltop too far, says Robin Davey, who thinks the weekend will produce another all-southern hemisphere final.
Wales must overcome the reborn Springbok juggernaut if they are to bring the curtain down on Warren Gatland’s 12-year reign as coach by making it all the way to the World Cup final.
For it’s plain to see the South Africans are back . . . big time, in every sense, as their mighty forwards consistently power their way to victories again.
They made light work of the exciting but lightweight Japanese in the quarter-finals, brushing them aside in the second half as they clinched a 26-3 victory.
Since they relaxed their selection policy by deciding to include players who have gone overseas to ply their trade they have not just reverted to type size-wise but are also crushing opponents like in days of old.
They did give favourites the All Blacks their biggest test in the opening pool game before losing their way a bit, and, with due respect to England this weekend, remain the side who can give New Zealand the biggest test in my opinion.
South Africa have traditionally based their game on a mighty pack with a bruising approach, the backs playing a basically supporting role.
It will be up to Wales on Sunday to counter this approach, and it won’t be easy for sure, certainly not if they play like they did against France in the quarter-final.
By common consent they were lucky to win against a French side reduced to 14 men for much of the second half after lock Sebastien Vahaamahina was deservedly sent off for what amounted to an assault on Aaron Wainwright.
And for the semi-final they will be without back row forward Josh Navidi who has been so influential since breaking into the side, but is sadly out of the rest of the World Cup after injuring a hamstring against the French,
On top of that there remain concerns about the fitness of centres Jonathan Davies and Hadleigh Parkes while Dan Biggar and George North have also had their issues during the tournament.
The Wales management have said they expect all the players to make it for Sunday’s showdown, but they said that last week and Davies didn’t make it.
He has been training this week with his leg, again, heavily bandaged and it remains to be seen whether he’ll actually play.
It seems Owen Lane won’t after being flown in this week as a surprise replacement for the stricken Navidi. Kicking coach Neil Jenkins has explained that Lane won’t be up and running until Friday so it seems unlikely he’ll be involved at all which begs the question, why was he called upon in the first place?
Wales have a pretty good record against South Africa in recent times, having won five times out of the last six meetings after not beating them at all until 1999.
The memories of that humiliating 96-13 thrashing at Loftus Versfeld in 1998 has been well and truly vanquished so that now Wales will gain confidence from their recent form against the Springboks.
One thing for sure, Wales know what’s coming on Sunday in the shape of the mighty pack who will try to strangle the life out of them via their formidable set-piece with three 6ft 8ins giants in there, before unleashing some dangerous backs particularly on the wing.
Dazzling bundle of dynamite Cheslin Kolbe is one of the players of the tournament and he will be a real threat.
The Springboks haven’t lost a line-out in the World Cup so far thanks to pinetree locks Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, backed up by powerful No.8 Duane Vermuelen.
Whether Wales can stop this juggernaut is another matter altogether. I somehow doubt that they can and reckon South Africa will make it all the way to the final.
Similarly, I’m going for the All Blacks to get the better of England to make it an all-Southern Hemisphere final, not what we want in this part of the world.
There’s no doubt England will give them a heck of a game, though they don’t have a good record against their opponents in recent times.
The All Blacks have beaten England in 15 of their last 16 encounters, some by really narrow margins, like the 16-15 outcome the last time the sides met at Twickenham in November 2018.
The last time they faced one another before that was back in 2014 when again it was close at 24-21. It could be the same again as two powerhouses lock horns and rival coaches Eddie Jones and Steve Hansen bid to outwit one another.
There’s no doubt England will have a real go at the All Blacks in the belief they can take them on up front with Owen Farrell pulling the strings now he’s back at 10.
But the All Blacks are supreme with their handling skills, their pace and their off-loading game, lethal breaking out from their own 22, and I’m predicting they’ll have too much for England.
So it’s a New Zealand v South Africa World Cup final for me.