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Gatland's Wales rookies aim to tame Springboks

Men’s international friendly: South Africa v Wales

Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday, 22 June Kick-off: 14:00 BST

Coverage: Live on S4C, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio Wales, Radio Cymru the BBC Sport website and app, plus live text commentary and followed by match report on the BBC Sport website and app.

So soon after the summer solstice, Saturday in south-west London could prove one of the longest days for Warren Gatland's Wales.

It is fair to say Wales will be rank outsiders when they face the daunting task of playing world champions South Africa in Twickenham on Saturday.

Damage limitation is what most Wales fans will hope for in the first of three summer internationals with a two-Test tour of Australia to follow in July.

Gatland's side arrive at Twickenham without numerous front-line players and a major experience gulf between them and their opponents.

South Africa lock Eben Etzebeth (119) has won almost as many caps as the entire Wales starting pack (120).

Wales are also in a losing spiral following six straight Test defeats and finishing bottom of the Six Nations table for the first time in 21 years.

Gatland under scrutiny

It is a crucial summer for Gatland after he was given a vote of confidence by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) following the Six Nations failures.

Winning became a habit for Wales during his first spell as head coach from 2008 to 2019, with Six Nations titles, Grand Slams and World Cup semi-final appearances achieved.

It is a different story second time around since Gatland returned to replace Wayne Pivac in December 2022.

Wales have lost 12 Tests from 18 and slipped to 10th in the world rankings after the Six Nations debacle. A victory is needed soon.

His man-management skills has also come under scrutiny after Ospreys hooker Sam Parry felt compelled to leave the summer training squad after initially being included.

With Dragons hooker Elliot Dee set to miss the Wallabies Tests through injury and Scarlets front row Ryan Elias rested for the summer, it leaves two rookie Cardiff hookers Evan Lloyd and Efan Daniel to accompany Dewi Lake in Australia.

Why are South Africa and Wales playing at Twickenham?

South Africa's squad to play Wales at Twickenham in 2024
South Africa's squad to play Wales at Twickenham in 2024 [Getty Images]

The magical mystery world of professional sport means you have the strange scenario of Wales facing South Africa at the home of English rugby at the height of summer for the Qatar Airways Cup.

The last time the two teams faced each other at this venue was in 2015 World Cup quarter-final which the Springboks edged 23-19.

So why have they returned to Twickenham nine years later?

The popular misconception is Taylor Swift has forced this change of venue with the Principality Stadium being unavailable for a summer concert series that also includes Bruce Springstein, Pink and Foo Fighters.

The WRU say this is not the case, highlighting this is an "away" fixture for Wales and forms part of their "summer tour".

The match is part of a promotional double-header with Barbarians and Fiji kicking off afterwards.

It is also bizarrely scheduled for the same day as the United Rugby Championship (URC) grand final with South African side Bulls hosting Glasgow in Pretoria.

So this Twickenham tie will be the summer appetiser with South Africa returning home to face Ireland and Wales flying to Australia.

How appetising this occasion, which has sold more than 65,000 tickets, will be remains to be seen.

Springbok legends, absentees and new caps

Wales and South Africa have been affected in this fixture by injuries and unavailability with the game being played outside World Rugby's international window.

Experimental and inexperienced is a way to describe the Wales selection.

Almost everywhere you look Wales are trying things for the first time. Problem is it is against the double world champions.

Some issues have been forced. Flanker Jac Morgan is the latest injury blow after being ruled out of the summer with a hamstring problem, joining the likes of Taulupe Faletau, Adam Beard, Teddy Williams, Tomos Williams, Gareth Anscombe on the sidelines with Josh Adams, Will Rowlands and Ryan Elias rested for the summer programme.

Prop Henry Thomas was a late withdrawal against South Africa with a foot injury but still hopes to make the tour.

Six Nations skipper Dafydd Jenkins is among seven English-based players - along with Christ Tshiunza, Nick Tompkins, Tommy Reffell, Dillon Lewis, Archie Griffin and Josh Hathaway - ineligible for the game.

Lake leads the side while James Botham fills the flanker role and lock Matthew Screech makes a first Test start.

Cardiff scrum-half Ellis Bevan is handed a Test debut, with three potential new caps in Eddie James, James Ratti and Jacob Beetham on the bench.

Cardiff full-back Beetham will cover fly-half Sam Costelow despite never starting a professional game at 10.

It is not the only first with Mason Grady starting at inside-centre for the first time in his senior career in a new-look midfield partnership with Owen Watkin.

Liam Williams makes a first Wales appearance since the World Cup after being named on the wing with Cameron Winnett staying at full-back.

South Africa are without the Bulls contingent, while Cheslin Kolbe, Damien Willemse and Lukhanyo Am are injured.

Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus is still able to select 10 players from the squad that beat New Zealand in the World Cup final in October 2023.

New captain Pieter-Steph du Toit, Etzebeth and scrum-half Faf de Klerk are involved, while prop Vincent Koch wins his 50th cap.

With France-based double World Cup winning captain Siya Kolisi unavailable, flanker Du Toit leads the side and will be hoping for better luck after overseeing South Africa's narrow defeat against Wales in Washington in 2018.

The youth is provided by wing Edwill van der Merwe and fly-half Jordan Hendrikse who make their Test debuts, while Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Ben-Jason Dixon could make first starts off the bench.

Under new laws

Three new laws will be in operation at Twickenham for Irish referee Chris Busby to keep an eye on with his English assistants Christophe Ridley and Adam Leal.

Described as "fan-focused" by World Rugby, they are designed to help improve the flow and spectacle of games.

It will now no longer be possible for a player to be put onside when an opposition player catches the ball and runs five metres, or passes the ball.

Offside players must make an attempt to retreat, therefore creating space for the opposition team to play and potentially reducing so-called 'kick tennis'.

It will no longer be possible to choose a scrum from a free-kick, and the action of rolling, twisting a player on their feet in the tackle - the 'crocodile roll' - has been banned.

Television match official Mark Patton will also be able to intervene more as well under new guidance.

Match stats

  • Four of the last six matches between South Africa and Wales were decided by five points or less.

  • The Springboks have won five of their last six Tests matches against Wales, the last of which was a World Cup warm-up game in Cardiff in August last year, which the Boks won 52-16, a record number of points against Wales on Welsh soil.

  • South Africa's record margin of victory in this fixture was the 96-13 win in 1998 in Pretoria. It remains Wales' heaviest ever defeat.

  • The Springbok starting line-up has 637 caps compared to Wales' 302.

Line-ups

South Africa: Aphelele Fassi; Edwill van der Merwe, Jesse Kriel, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi; Jordan Hendrikse, Faf de Klerk; Ox Nche, Malcolm Marx, Vincent Koch, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Pieter-Steph du Toit (capt), Evan Roos.

Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Frans Malherbe, Salmaan Moerat, Ben-Jason Dixon, Grant Williams, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Damian de Allende.

Wales: Cameron Winnett; Liam Williams, Owen Watkin, Mason Grady, Rio Dyer; Sam Costelow, Ellis Bevan; Gareth Thomas, Dewi Lake, Keiron Assiratti, Matthew Screech, Ben Carter, Taine Plumtree, James Botham, Aaron Wainwright.

Replacements: Evan Lloyd, Kemsley Mathias, Harri O'Connor, James Ratti, Mackenzie Martin, Gareth Davies, Eddie James, Jacob Beetham.

Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU)

Assistant Referees: Christophe Ridley (RFU), Adam Leal (RFU)

TMO: Mark Patton (IRFU).