Cuthbert senses big scalp is close

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Published: Wednesday 26th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Alex Cuthbert has no doubt that Wales are “there or thereabouts” in their continued quest to claim a major southern hemisphere scalp.

Cuthbert and company have one final chance for 2014 on Saturday when South Africa arrive at the Millennium Stadium.

It is six years and 26 Tests since Wales last beat the Springboks, New Zealand or Australia, although they looked on course to end that dismal sequence against the All Blacks last weekend, leading 16-15 with 11 minutes left.

But the world champions responded in devastating fashion, rattling up 19 unanswered points during a seven-minute spell when Wales’ victory hopes spectacularly unravelled.

Two of Wales’ last four defeats against South Africa have been by one point – 31-30 in Nelspruit in June and 17-16 during the 2011 World Cup – with their only victory from 29 attempts coming at the Millennium Stadium 15 years ago.

“They are a totally different team to New Zealand,” Wales wing Cuthbert said.

“When the All Blacks have the ball you don’t know what they are going to do because they have so much quality in the forwards and backs.

“The South Africans are more direct. Their forwards love mauling and beating the other pack into submission.

“They will be wary of our backs, and if we get a lot of ball in hand we can do some damage. We have got the firepower to confront them, and we showed that in the summer.

“If the forwards can do the job they have been doing over the last couple of weeks, then hopefully we can get the result.

“Myself and everyone thought we were going to go on and win that game (against New Zealand) with 11 minutes to go. We felt they had thrown quite a lot at us and we felt we had held them out.

“You could see they were getting a bit frustrated at times, and we just needed to control the game. I would be worried if we were getting thumped by 40 points. We are there or thereabouts.”

Wales head coach Warren Gatland will name his team on Thursday to face South Africa, with a minimum of two changes to be expected.

Prop Paul James and hooker Richard Hibbard, who both started against New Zealand, are now back with their respective Aviva Premiership clubs Bath and Gloucester as Saturday’s Test falls outside the International Rugby Board autumn window.

Gethin Jenkins, who has been troubled by a hamstring problem, is on course to replace James, with Ospreys forward Scott Baldwin taking Hibbard’s place.

Elsewhere, Wales’ medical staff have been assessing full-back Leigh Halfpenny (shoulder), wing George North (concussion) and scrum-half Rhys Webb (groin) this week, so further switches cannot be ruled out.

Wales’ last appointment with South Africa five months ago saw them beaten by a 78th-minute penalty try after they led throughout an absorbing contest, and Cuthbert, a try-scorer that day, added: “We know if we play like that again we will be in with a shout.

“They (South Africa) will know we have been playing well in certain parts of the game over the last couple of weeks. We need to start well, and hopefully build momentum.

“You go through the highs of winning silverware from the last couple of years, and you go through some lows. The frustrating thing is that we know how well we can play.

“It was a great atmosphere at the Millennium Stadium (last Saturday). It is a reason we want to play well, not just for us but for the fans.

“After 69 minutes, I thought they thought we were going to win as well. There was a lot of tension in that stadium, but a bounce of the ball and it went the other way.

“They (New Zealand) are a world class-side, and you make your own luck.”

Published: Wednesday 26th November 2014 by The News Editor

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