In Review

Rugby World Cup semi-final: Wales vs. South Africa preview, predictions, team news, starting XVs, UK time, TV

Liam Williams is ruled out so Leigh Halfpenny will start at full-back for Wales

Wales vs. South Africa

  • What: Rugby World Cup second semi-final  
  • When: Sunday 27 October  
  • Where: International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan  
  • UK start time: 9am  
  • TV channel: live on ITV  
  • Match betting odds: Wales to win 3/1; SA to win 4/11; draw 28/1

Wales were dealt another devastating injury blow on Thursday when their Lions full-back Liam Williams was ruled out of Sunday’s Rugby World Cup semi-final clash with South Africa after sustaining an ankle injury in training. 

Having lost No.8 Josh Navidi to a hamstring injury earlier in the week, the withdrawal of the vastly experienced Williams for the rest of the tournament is terrible news.

On the plus side, Jonathan Davies has been included in the starting XV for Sunday, the centre is fit again after missing the quarter-final against France with a knee problem.

All change

Leigh Halfpenny comes in for Williams while Navidi is replaced by Ross Moriarty in the back-row. Owen Watkin steps aside to make way for Davies, who’ll partner Hadleigh Parkes in the centre.

“Liam is undoubtedly a big loss from an attacking perspective and what he has achieved in the game in the last year or so,” said Wales head coach Warren Gatland. 

“But bringing in the experience of someone like Leigh gives us a different element. It is a change but we don’t think that we are weakening the side in any way with the changes we have made.”

Davies a doubt?

That’s patently not the case. Halfpenny is defensively sound with a howitzer of a boot, but he is leaden in attack compared to the lightning Williams, the best attacking full-back in Europe. 

What Wales can’t afford is another withdrawal between now and Sunday, but Gatland hardly oozed confidence when asked if Davies - whose left leg has been heavily strapped this week - is 100% fit. 

“We hope he is fit, he has come through training this week,” Gatland replied.

Mind games

South Africa have also been hit by injury, in their case the withdrawal of Cheslin Kolbe. The livewire winger is replaced in the starting line-up by S’Busiso Nkosi, the only change to the 23-man squad that beat Japan in last weekend’s quarter-final.

“I don’t know who the favourites are, as we believe we can beat them, and they will fully believe they can beat us,” was how Springboks chief Rassie Erasmus answered the question about where Sunday’s smart money lies.

But he did indulge in some mind games by pointing out which team has the better record of late. 

He said: “Wales, with an experienced coach that I rate really highly, and a team that has been [Six Nations] grand slam winners, have been No.1 in the world rankings. They will have pressure.”

Evenly matched

Wales have won the last four encounters between the two nations, including a 20-11 victory in Cardiff last November, but in their previous two World Cup meetings it’s South Africa who have emerged triumphant. 

They edged out Wales 23-19 in the 2015 quarter-final, but since then the Boks have suffered some lean spells. 

“We’ve been number five, six, seven in the world over the last three years since 2015, and we’ve got some proper hidings against almost all the teams,” admitted Erasmus. 

“We were just trying to get some respect back at the beginning, so that people could start believing in us as a team. Now we are at that stage where we want to become No.1 in the world again.” 

Smart rugby

Wales know what to expect on Sunday: that South Africa will try and use their superior size and strength to stifle their creativity, which is what they did to such great effect against Japan last weekend. 

But in Gatland the Welsh have a coach of vast experience who is well used to playing teams that have a physical edge up front. 

“They’re a big team,” said Gatland. “South Africa are very strong in the scrum and they have quality guys to come off the bench. You have to be smart in terms of the way that you play.”

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How to watch on TV in the UK 

The second semi-final of the weekend will be shown live on ITV. Coverage of Sunday’s clash starts at 7.30am (UK time) and the match begins at 9am.

ITV will also show the England vs. New Zealand semi-final on Saturday morning.

Rugby World Cup: semi-final score predictions and betting odds

Confirmed teams

Wales starting XV
  • 15. Leigh Halfpenny, 14. George North, 13. Jonathan Davies, 12. Hadleigh Parkes, 11. Josh Adams, 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Gareth Davies; 1. Wyn Jones 2. Ken Owens 3. Tom Francis 4. Jake Ball 5. Alun Wyn Jones (captain) 6. Aaron Wainwright 7. Justin Tipuric 8. Ross Moriarty  
  • Replacements: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Aaron Shingler, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Owen Watkin
South Africa starting XV 
  • 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 S’Busiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk; 1 Tendai Mtawarira, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 3 Frans Malherbe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Lood de Jager, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 7 Pieter-Steph Du Toit, 8 Duane Vermeulen  
  • Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18. Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn

Pundit predictions

The Daily Telegraph: Springboks by four points

“Wales have played their get-out-of-jail-free card already this tournament; another sloppy start this weekend will see South Africa win at a canter. Warren Gatland’s men will be better, but their stuttering attack will cost them against the best team that they’ve faced in the tournament. Hungry South Africa are hunting for their first final since 2007, too.”

Ash Wheldon, The Stats Zone: Springboks to win

“Wales will have to be much better if they are to reach their first ever RWC final as they face South Africa. The Welsh were poor for large spells against France and looked to be heading out of the tournament until Sebastien Vahaamahina’s moment of madness saw the French reduced to 14-men. The Springboks are unlikely to give as much away as France and if the Welsh get off to another poor start like they did in their quarter-final, they are unlikely to have enough in the locker to come back with South Africa able to progress to the final.”

Liam Hyslop, Stuff.co.nz: Springboks by ten points 

“Wales only just did enough to beat a poor French side in the quarters, while South Africa looked like they’d developed a winning, if not a little boring, gameplan against Japan. They should be able to grind Wales down for a 10-point win.”

Gareth Jones, SportingLife: Springboks to win 

“The stats show the Springboks are at their best just before and after half-time. If Wales can have a 10+ point lead going into the break and hold on to that until 55 minutes then they should see the match out and reach their first final. That's easier said than done, but Wales have proved that nothing is beyond this dogged side now.”

ESPN: Springboks by three points

“South Africa had to do the unwanted job of knocking out everybody’s second-favourite team, Japan, in the quarterfinals, but the way they did so showed their quality. The Springboks conceded just three points in a well-organised rout of the hosts. They’ll have little chance of doing the same on Sunday in what will likely be a nail-bitingly close game. Tip: South Africa by three.”  

Steve Luckings, The National: Wales to edge it 

“The last-gasp win over France summed up an indefatigable spirit that courses through the soul of this Wales team. And while the loss of Josh Navidi is a blow, in Justin Tipuric and Aaron Wainwright Wales possess two of the most mobile loose forwards left in the competition. They will need them at their best if they are to overcome a South Africa that most of us now regard as the world’s biggest party poopers after they unceremoniously dumped hosts Japan out of the tournament last week. Prediction: A lot closer to call than the other semi-final, but Wales to edge it.”

Spiro Zavos, The Roar: South Africa to win

“Without putting any money on the matter, my fearless prediction is that the All Blacks and the Springboks will win their respective semi-finals, and go forward to a fearsome contest in the final.”

Rugby4Cast: Wales 23 South Africa 25

“The algorithm has South Africa to win by 2.”

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