Shropshire Star

5 talking points as Wales kick off summer Test schedule with South Africa clash

Wales have lost their last six Tests and are without several key players.

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Wales play the first of three summer Tests when they tackle world champions South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.

A tour to Australia follows, highlighted by two appointments with the Wallabies, while South Africa will host Ireland in an eagerly anticipated series.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some key main talking points heading into the game.

Odds stacked against Wales

Wales are rank outsiders, being billed as a 13-1 chance by some bookmakers, and it is not difficult to see why.

They will arrive at Twickenham without numerous front-line players, contributing to an eye-watering gulf in experience between the teams. South Africa lock Eben Etzebeth, for instance, has almost won more caps than the entire Wales starting pack.

South Africa won five of their last six games against Wales, while Warren Gatland’s team have have posted a solitary victory – against the Barbarians – since October 2023.

Wales’ long list of absentees

Jac Morgan has been a key player for Wales
Jac Morgan is among a lengthy list of Wales players unavailable to face South Africa (Ben Whitley/PA)

When Gatland says that Wales have backs against the wall this weekend, he is not wrong, with the list of unavailable players running comfortably into double figures.

As the game falls outside World Rugby’s summer Test window, a sizeable England-based contingent – it features Nick Tompkins, Dafydd Jenkins and Tommy Reffell – cannot play, with injury absentees including Jac Morgan, Taulupe Faletau, Tomos Williams, Adam Beard, Josh Adams, Ryan Elias and Will Rowlands all being rested.

For Welsh fans, it is the harsh reality.

Man in the middle – Mason Grady

Mason Grady provides Wales with a powerful midfield presence
Mason Grady will start his first Test at inside centre when Wales face South Africa (Ben Whitley/PA)

The most intriguing selection by Gatland is a first Wales run at inside centre for Cardiff powerhouse Grady.

The 6ft 5in back’s previous 11 international appearances have either been in the number 13 shirt or off the bench, but the head coach said: “It is a chance for him to get his hands on the ball a little bit more – 12s tend to end up catching the ball two or three times more than a 13 does. We want to get the ball in his hands. How do we manufacture that.”

If Grady goes well, then expect a reprise on tour in Australia.

New laws go on public show

Three new laws will be in operation at Twickenham. Described as “fan-focused” by World Rugby, they are designed to help improve the flow and spectacle of games.

A player now cannot be put onside when an opposition player catches the ball and runs five metres, or passes the ball, from a kick in open play.

Offside players must make an attempt to retreat, therefore creating space for the opposition team to play and potentially reducing so-called ‘kick tennis’, while it will no longer be possible to choose a scrum from a free-kick, and the action of rolling/twisting/pulling a player on their feet in the tackle area – the ‘crocodile roll’ – has been banned.

When will Wales win again?

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

It is a different story second time around, though, with Wales having lost 12 Tests from 18, including six on the bounce.

They now face South Africa, then Australia twice before an autumn series that features appointments with Fiji, the Wallabies and Springboks, before a Six Nations opener against France in Paris.

A victory would work wonders for confidence, but where and when is not exactly clear.

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