Davies prepared for battle

Caretaker coach Nigel Davies has challenged Wales to "make a statement" against world champions South Africa at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday. [more]

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Caretaker coach Nigel Davies has challenged Wales to "make a statement" against world champions South Africa at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

But whatever happens, it appears unlikely that either Davies or any of his support staff will wear the Welsh tracksuit beyond this weekend.

New Zealander Warren Gatland – appointed as Gareth Jenkins’ successor as head coach – arrives to start work a week on Saturday.

However, Davies has conducted preparations thoroughly this week, and he believes that a Wales side including Ospreys centre Gavin Henson for his first Test start since November last year can make its presence felt.

Davies said: "It is obviously a tough prospect.

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"But we are playing at home in front of a baying crowd of Welsh fans, and we have a magnificent opportunity to make a statement that will reverberate around world rugby.

"This Wales team is good enough to do something special on Saturday."

Only six players remain in their starting positions from Wales’ last game – the World Cup-ending defeat against Fiji in Nantes on September 29 – while Llanelli Scarlets full-back Morgan Stoddart makes his Test debut and prop Gethin Jenkins captains Wales for the first time.

Injury rules out wing Shane Williams, but if Wales can secure enough ball, the Ospreys midfield trio of James Hook, Henson and Sonny Parker should at least be able to test South Africa’s defence.

Davies added: "It is a pretty exciting, new-look backline which I am sure can make South Africa stand up and take notice.

"Gavin’s partnership with both James Hook and Sonny Parker at the Ospreys has been going well of late, which is the main reason for going with that combination."

Wales have got to match the Springboks up-front, however, in their quest for only a second ever victory over them.

And that is where the visitors should dominate, given they have three of their World Cup final front-five – skipper John Smit, prop CJ Van Der Linde and lock Bakkies Botha – plus both flankers in Schalk Burger and Juan Smith.

Wales, unquestionably, must match fire with fire – or get their fingers burnt.

And much will depend on Johannesburg-born tighthead prop Rhys Thomas, who starts his first Test in Wales colours with the significant challenge of dominating the scrum.

Thomas said: "Hopefully, I can add a bit of an edge to the pack and a bit of go-forward.

"I will be looking to bring a little bit of aggression and a physical, abrasive edge.

"We have spoken about the need for discipline. Obviously, there is passion and then there is blind passion.

"Maybe in the heat of battle I do get carried away sometimes, but we have discussed it, so I don’t think it should be a problem."

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