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It Will Either be Pain or Gain for Taine, When Wales Muscle up to South Africa

By Graham Thomas

Taine Plumtree will be bidding for a family London double this weekend – but it will require a massive upset by Wales for him to achieve it.

Last month, Plumtree’s father, John, coached the Sharks to a memorable 36-22 triumph against Gloucester in the Challenge Cup final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

On Saturday, Plumtree junior will be at Twickenham, where South Africa are Wales’ opponents in a daunting one-off challenge before Warren Gatland’s men fly to Australia.

How daunting? Well, bookmakers DragonBet made the Springboks 1/14 favourites to win and have Wales as the rank outsiders at 17/2.

You can get Wales at near even money – at 5/6 – with a healthy 18.5 points start.

If Wales win it will be a seismic shock, given that they have lost their previous six matches and the Springboks will carry the badge of current world champions.

The Boks may only have 10 of their 23 that won the World Cup final in Paris back last autumn, but Plumtree – who spent some of his youth growing up in Durban – knows fully what to expect when he muscles up to the green machine.

“Any team that plays against the Springboks knows that they want to control the game through their pack and how physical they can be,” says Plumtree.

“Regardless of who they pick that’s going to be their mindset. Our mindset has to be going up against that and giving it back to them.”

Scarlets forward Plumtree will wear No.6 for Wales in a back row that also features James Botham at openside flanker and Aaron Wainwright at No.8.

Ahead of them, will be the fairly novice second row partnership of Matthew Screech and Ben Carter of the Dragons, while the uncapped Cardiff scrum-half Ellis Bevan partners the youthful Sam Costelow at half-back.

Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks will return to action for the first time since making it back-to-back World Cup titles last year and, by contrast to Wales, have named a fearsome side.

Wales are missing more than a dozen players for various reasons and while South Africa are denied their Bulls players who are taking on Glasgow in the URC final, they can still boast gnarled veterans such as Eben Etzebeth, Ox Niche, Malcolm Marx and Pieter-Steph du Toit.

Five players feature in the same positions they occupied at the Stade de France in October of last year, where the Springboks pipped the All Blacks, 12-11, to be crowned world champions for the second time in a row. 

They are the duo of Etzebeth and Franco Mostert, Du Toit, Faf de Klerk and Jesse Kriel.

The difference in experience is summed up by the fact that lock Etzebeth has 119 international caps. Wales’ starting pack for Saturday’s game has just 118 combined.

Plumtree – who missed both the World Cup and last season’s Six Nations with a shoulder injury – insists he is enthused by the challenge, rather than intimidated.

“Eben Etzebeth is one of the best rugby players in the world and what a way to test yourself by playing against players like him,” he adds.

“Our backs are against the wall, but I think the only way for us is forward. How we do that is something that we as a team and a management group will sort out amongst ourselves.

“Right now, we just want to bring back that real fight that Wales have always had. Hopefully, throughout the next four games we can show that we are building into the autumn.”

This will be the second time Wales and South Africa have gone head-to-head against each other at one of the world’s most famous venues. The Boks edged it 23-19 the last time both teams met at the 82,000-capacity stadium in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final.

That was a close one, and most of the recent meetings have been, which might tempt some to back Wales, despite those long odds.

Four of the last six matches between the countries were decided by five points or less.

The Springboks have won five of their last 10 Test matches against Wales – but the last of which was a World Cup warm-up game in Cardiff in August last year, which the Boks won 52-16. 

Their eight tries in that match saw them rack up a record number of points against Wales on Welsh soil.

That most recent contest – followed by the teams’ diverging recent record in the games since – make the Springboks hot favourites to win well again.

But Plumtree promises: “Facing the Springboks is obviously going to be a challenge but it’s the best time for us as a team to really show what we are made of and to really test ourselves.”

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