‘Stunned’ Welsh great slams the radically changed Springboks XV

Gareth Edwards believes Wales have been disrespected by world champions South Africa over the Springboks’ second Test team selection. Head coach Jacques Nienaber has made 14 changes from the line-up that edged past Wales 32-29 in a thrilling series opener decided by Damian Willemse’s penalty with the game’s final kick.

He has named two uncapped players in the starting XV – wing Kurt-Lee Arendse and number eight Evan Roos – and four more among the replacements. Only lock Eben Etzebeth remains from Pretoria, with Nienaber stating that he “needed to strike a balance between giving our talented young players an opportunity to show what they can do at international level and winning”.

Nienaber’s lineup contains a total of 393 caps, but 321 of those Test appearances are shared by just five players in Etzebeth, fly-half Handre Pollard, center Jesse Kriel, prop Trevor Nyakane and flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit. Such an approach by the Springboks has cut little ice with Wales great Edwards, who also feels the clash in Bloemfontein on Saturday has been partly devalued.

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“The big disappointment for me was to learn South Africa are going to change virtually their whole team,” Edwards said. “They have got every right to prepare for the World Cup, but I would really like to know what their logic is in changing so many.

“I suppose the only way they can justify it is if they win. I think it shows a little bit of disrespect. If there had been five or six changes, you would maybe have raised an eyebrow. But 14 changes, it’s overwhelming.

“I don’t think it shows respect for Wales and, looking logically, there is only one way (for Wales) to view it and that is to give them a good ‘tonking’, as they say. It is a great opportunity to beat them and say, ‘Thank you very much for picking that team’. I’m not going to suggest for one minute that I know all that is right and wrong about the modern game, except that it is a pretty physically demanding set-up and it is important that you do (make changes), but there are ways and means of changing.

“It has stunned a lot of people. they [the Wales players] are probably talking to each other and saying, ‘Right boys, that’s what they think of us’. It’s great motivation for Wales. it [South Africa’s team selection] does to an extent (devalues ​​the game). There is a lot at stake, but it takes a bit of an edge out of it. That’s not Wales’ fault.”

Wales have never defeated the Springboks in South Africa but after going desperately close at Loftus Versfeld last weekend, they will line up in Bloemfontein with a serious chance of making history. Unlike Nienaber, Wales boss Wayne Pivac is not expected to make wholesale alterations, although it is thought that wing Alex Cuthbert and hooker Dewi Lake are pushing hard for starts.

“Take it from me, any side I’ve played against in a green and gold jersey, you are going to have to give respect to. It’s not going to be easy, far from it, second-team or not. My warning is don’t treat it lightly – treat it like it is the same (Springboks) team,” added Edwards.

Edwards, meanwhile, has received a lasting image of what is widely acclaimed as rugby union’s greatest try. Edwards’ score for the Barbarians against New Zealand at Cardiff Arms Park in January 1973 has long entered sporting folklore but amazingly there are no recorded photographs, with only television footage available to showcase a breath-taking length-of-the-field move started by Phil Bennett and finished by Edwards.

To mark Edwards’ 75th birthday next week, a painting by Welsh artist Elin Sian Blake was commissioned that captures him diving for the line. The Greatest Try project will include prints of it being sold for charity, with a celebration lunch planned at Celtic Manor Resort next January on the game’s 50th anniversary.

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