Dan Biggar has stated that Wales will “give absolutely everything” in pursuit of a Test series triumph against the world champions, South Africa, that appeared inconceivable three weeks ago.
Biggar admitted Wales would “probably have been laughed out of town” had such a possibly even been suggested before the series began. But after losing narrowly to South Africa in the opener and bouncing back to tie things up last weekend, a titanic Test trilogy reaches its climax on Saturday.
Cape Town’s DHL Stadium and an expected 55,000 capacity crowd will witness Wales’ bid to shred international rugby’s form-book beyond recognition 14 months before the World Cup. It is only 17 weeks since Wayne Pivac’s team lost at home to regular Six Nations wooden spoonists Italy, while they had won only four of 12 games before departing Heathrow – beating Canada, Fiji, Australia and Scotland.
“It is a great opportunity on Saturday for us to win a series here,” Biggar, the Wales captain, said. “I think if we had said that four or five weeks ago before we flew, we would probably have been laughed out of town if I had said that in front of you.
“We have put a huge amount into this tour as a group in terms of the amount of training we’ve done and the sacrifices we have made. We know this is our last week of the season, so we can go out and give absolutely everything and leave it all out there.”
Central to Wales’ success has been an approach – driven relentlessly by an inspired Biggar – to confront the Springboks in every area. And it has left South Africa, noted exponents of an ultra-physical outlook, rattled at times.
Biggar added: “I have really enjoyed that side of it because that’s what Test match rugby is about. We certainly didn’t want to come here, lie down and roll the carpet out for the Springboks.
“I have enjoyed what the team has done in that sense in terms of not giving an inch. I would be disappointed if we were any softer than we have been for the last couple of weeks on Saturday.”
South Africa’s head coach, Jacques Nienaber, has recalled eight of the Springboks’ 2019 World Cup-winning team for Saturday’s finale, with six forwards and only two backs on the replacements’ bench.
Pivac, meanwhile, fields the side that went so close in Pretoria a fortnight ago, with one change from the second Test victory in Bloemfontein – Wales’ first against the Springboks in South Africa – wing Josh Adams replacing the injured Alex Cuthbert. Centre George North will become Wales’ most capped back in the men’s international game when he makes his 105th appearance.
“Our defensive review every time we play South Africa is very similar,” Biggar said. “We know exactly what is coming, but it’s whether you are good enough or strong enough to stop it on the day. We feel like we’ve been fairly comfortable in terms of what they have thrown at us, but ultimately when they turn the power on – and if you spend a lot of time in your own half against this team – you are going to get punished.
“If we can keep penalties to 10 or under (in the match) then we are in with a real shout of winning the game.”
Meanwhile Zander Fagerson displayed the same drive to improve “all over the park” as he reflected on the journey that has taken him to his 50th Scotland cap. The 26-year-old front-row forward will achieve the feat in Saturday’s summer tour series decider against Argentina in Santiago del Estero.
The achievement comes eight years after being handed his Glasgow debut by Gregor Townsend, the same man who will facilitate the latest milestone. Townsend praised Fagerson this week for showing a hunger to learn and improve, recalling the time he substituted the then teenager inside 25 minutes of one of his first starts for Warriors.
“Thanks Gregor, I have been trying to forget that Scarlets game,” Fagerson joked. “I have been through a few lows in my career. That Scarlets game was definitely one of the lower points. But as I have always said, you learn from that. The tough games are where you learn the most.”
The British & Irish Lions international said: “Scrummaging is a thing that I never think you really master. It’s just that consistency and, going forward, making sure I add a few more tricks to my bag. All over there are bits to do.”
Full-back Ollie Smith, a Glasgow team-mate of Fagerson’s and a fellow former pupil at Strathallan School in Perthshire, will win his first cap at the age of 21. “I have seen how hard he has worked at Glasgow and he definitely deserves his opportunity. I’m sure he will take it with both hands,” said Fagerson.