The start to Wales’ summer of rugby has been overshadowed by the club v country row over Butch James.
Bath centre James, included in the Springboks side after a two year absence, was forced to return to his club when Premier Rugby insisted the game does not fall within the international playing window.
The South African Rugby Union had hoped to secure James’ release by virtue of clauses in his contract, but their request was rejected by Premier Rugby, the umbrella organisation for England’s Premiership clubs
James’ absence sees uncapped Juan de Jongh start, Victor Matfield comes into the team to replace injured Andries Bekker, and Zane Kirchner has also been called up as a replacement.
Both Matfield and Kirchner played in the Bulls Super 14 final win over the Stormers last weekend.
Elsewhere, Andy Powell, Wales’ golf-buggy loving satsuma-skinned back row forward, has seen his return to the international fold scuppered by a torn thigh muscle.
Powell was axed from the Wales squad in February following his drunken antics in a golf buggy after a boozy post-match celebration.
He was recalled to the bench but injury has put his return on hold, and he will now also miss the summer tour to New Zealand.
Wales coach Warren Gatland has shocked Wales fans by picking James Hook at outside centre. Hook is not touring with the squad, instead going under knife for a shoulder op.
Ospreys scrum-half Mike Phillips partners Stephen Jones at half-back, and with Jamie Roberts at 12 and Hook outside him, the Wales backline looks strong. Leigh Halfpenny and Tom Prydie start on the wings with Lee Byrne at fullback. With a backline like this, Wales have got to run in a hatful of tries, right?
My prediction: This is as good a time as any for Wales to beat the Springboks. Wales were the kings of high drama in this year’s Six Nations but they will need to stop the ‘Boks from getting a head start of 20 points. Warren Gatland’s men can’t afford to give South Africa such a luxury. Wales to win by 6.
Wales: Lee Byrne (Ospreys); Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), James Hook (Ospreys), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Tom Prydie (Ospreys); Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Ospreys); Paul James (Ospreys), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Blues), Deiniol Jones (Blues), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Blues), Ryan Jones (capt, Ospreys).
Replacements: Huw Bennett (Ospreys), John Yapp (Blues), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Rob McCusker (Scarlets), Richie Rees (Blues), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Andrew Bishop (Ospreys).
South Africa: Frans Steyn (Racing Metro); Gio Aplon (Stormers), Jaque Fourie (Stormers), Juan de Jongh (Stormers), Odwa Ndungane (Sharks); Ruan Pienaar (Sharks), Ricky Januarie (Stormers); CJ van der Linde (Leinster), John Smit (Sharks, capt), BJ Botha (Ulster), Danie Rossouw (Bulls), Victor Matfield (Bulls), Francois Louw (Stormers), Dewald Potgieter (Bulls), Joe van Niekerk (Toulon).
Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle (Bulls), Jannie du Plessis (Sharks), Alistair Hargreaves (Sharks), Ryan Kankowski (Sharks), Meyer Bosman (Cheetahs), Zane Kirchner (Bulls), Bjorn Basson (Cheetahs).