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Wales with Mountain to Climb Against The Springboks . . . Just Like 1999

By Jake Maddaford

In their first match since their embarrassing Six Nations campaign, Warren Gatland’s Wales side will take on South Africa next week in what will mark the anniversary of the first game at what was then called the Millennium Stadium.

Strangely enough, even though this game falls on the 25th anniversary of the 1999 clash in Cardiff, the match will be held at the home of English rugby, Twickenham.

Even more bizarre is the fact that this is a South Africa “home” game and a “tour match” for Wales who then head to Australia.

But such is the nature of modern sport, where hosting now often ends up where the finances can be maximised.

So, it’s off to London, we must go.

Both sides couldn’t go into this game with a bigger contrast in results. 

Wales haven’t won a competitive match since October when they beat Georgia in the World Cup pool phase.

Whereas, the Springboks’ last match of any note was their World Cup final victory against New Zealand in Paris and they haven’t lost since their meeting with Ireland in the pool stage back in September.

As mentioned, this game will mark the anniversary of the first game played at the now Principality Stadium – a Test against South Africa that saw Wales beat the Springboks for the first time, 29-19.

Former Wales hooker Garin Jenkins spoke about that meeting back in 1999, saying: “The atmosphere was fantastic, with people coming to the stadium for the first time and watching us play against the world champions.

“I remember Sir Tasker Watkins and Francois Pienaar parading the World Cup around the ground before the game.

“I don’t think they had laid the pitch until a couple of days before the game, so the final training session before was a bit makeshift.

“There was some overhanging girder work and we had to wear the red helmets because there was a lot of work going on.

“It was quite a sight and we had to wear them to the pitchside because the stadium was not finished.”

Amazingly, only 27,000 were allowed into the stadium to see this historic fixture, but then Wales head coach Graham Henry wasn’t able to tell the difference during the game.

“It was just a great occasion and it sounded like there were 300,000 there,” said Henry.

“The ground was unfinished and there were some concrete mixers around.

“It was a special place, and it was just great to christen it that day with a win. It just all came together that day.”

It proved to be a special day for the Swansea centre Mark Taylor, too, as he had the honour of scoring the first try at the Millennium Stadium.

With Rob Howley as captain, and Neil Jenkins the major points contributor with 19, Wales were able to secure their first win over the Springboks.

As for the upcoming match, Wales aren’t left with many reasons to be optimistic, following a dismal Six Nations campaign earlier this year, where they lost five out of five to be left holding the Wooden Spoon.

Yet Gatland insists the recovery can begin where it is least expected.

“South Africa will be missing a few players as well, but whatever team they put out we know they won’t be small – they’ll be big and physical. Those are the challenges that you want,” says the Wales coach.

“We want to get back to the levels of respect we had earned playing against South Africa over a number of years in terms of the performances and results we had against them. You quickly lose that respect and the challenge for us is how do we get back to that level?

“A big part of that is mental. Not a huge number of players come into camp with a huge amount of confidence in terms of results they have had over the season and especially in big games.

“We have to try to build confidence and self-belief in the group and that’s a big challenge for us. International rugby is about performance and getting results.”

South Africa will be without winger Cheslin Kolbe, who has been released from the initial 35 man squad

This is the first match of a testing summer for Gatland’s side. Following the Springboks match, Wales will travel down under to face Australia on July 6th and 13th, as well as a game against Queensland Reds on the 19th of the same month.

Those matches are to be played in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane respectively.

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