7:33am Saturday 21st June 2014
THIS WEEK the British and Irish Lions of 1974 were lauded at George Best Belfast City Airport for their legendary efforts in South Africa.
Flybe marked the 40th anniversary of the tour by naming a plane after The Invincibles, who played 22, won 21, drew one and lost none.
Forget invincibility, it's respectability that Wales' crop of 2014 are chasing against the Springboks in Nelspruit this afternoon.
Last weekend's 38-16 first Test humbling in Durban was one of the most deflating defeats in a succession of failures against Southern Hemisphere big guns.
Welsh players have frequently talked about the gap narrowing after plucky defeats against the Aussies, Springboks and All Blacks. Not this time.
The game was done and dusted after a quarter and it could have been an even bigger gubbing had the hosts kept their foot to the floor. Afterwards we were treated to the usual, tedious excuses.
"The boys have not played for a while. I know we had that trial game but some guys only played 40 minutes or 50 minutes," said lock Luke Charteris.
"Having that as one game in six weeks is not the same as playing Super Rugby week in and week out like South Africa's players have."
"In the first half of the first match of a series, we have struggled to get up to pace, intensity and the speed of the game," said defence coach Shaun Edwards.
"It also happened in Australia in 2012 and it has happened again in the first Test here, hopefully we can give a better account of ourselves."
That is essential if Wales are to at least give the Springboks a run for their money and leave the field at Mbombela Stadium with their heads held high.
Head coach Warren Gatland has resisted the temptation to wield the axe after Durban, making just two changes with tighthead Samson Lee and flanker Josh Turnbull replacing Adam Jones and Aaron Shingler.
He has given another chance to scrum-half Mike Phillips, Charteris and full-back Liam Williams, who were all sweating on their places.
And Wales need to up their game all over the park if they are to at least be in the game entering the final quarter.
They need to be sharper against the 'Boks kicking game, they need to be more positive with ball in hand, they need to be more aggressive up front and they need to be more disciplined.
The hosts weren't actually at their best in Durban – they made eight pointless trips to the Welsh 22, turned the ball over 23 times and missed one in six tackles – and boss Heyneke Meyer expects them to go up a few gears as they prepare for the Rugby Championship.
Their tight five will attempt to put the squeeze on the tourists and Gatland can ill afford to have as many passengers in his pack as he did in Durban.
Wales should be better today but, worryingly, so will the 'Boks, who possess guile to go with their grunt thanks to a seriously rapid back three of Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks and Bryan Habana.
We are fed up with the same old story of plucky defeats to Sanzar sides but after last week a single-figure loss would at least give some hope ahead of the autumn dates against the big three.
South Africa: W le Roux, C Hendricks, JP Pietersen, J Serfontein, B Habana, M Steyn, F du Preez, T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis, F van der Merwe, V Matfield (captain), F Louw, W Alberts, D Vermeulen. Replacements: S Brits, G Steenkamp, C Oosthuizen, L de Jager, S Burger, R Pienaar, W Olivier, L Mvovo
Wales: L Williams, A Cuthbert, J Davies, J Roberts, G North, D Biggar, M Phillips, G Jenkins, K Owens, S Lee, L Charteris, AW Jones (captain), D Lydiate, J Turnbull, T Faletau. Replacements: M Rees, P James, A Jarvis, J Ball, D Baker, G Davies, J Hook, M Morgan.
Referee: Steve Walsh(Australia)
Odds: South Africa 1/16, Wales 8/1, draw 33/1
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