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Wales captain Dan Biggar readily admits that Saturday’s first Test assignment against world champions South Africa at altitude in Pretoria is “about as tough as it gets”.
But Biggar is also upbeat about Wales’ prospects across a three-match series, which begins at a sold-out Loftus Versfeld.
Wales have never beaten the Springboks in South Africa, losing 10 previous encounters and conceding a total of more than 400 points.
They also tackle Siya Kolisi’s team on the back of a dismal home defeat against Italy that consigned them to a fifth-place Guinness Six Nations finish.
“We know the challenge that lies ahead,” Biggar said.
“It’s probably up there with the biggest challenges in world rugby, playing the world champions, the number one-ranked team in their own backyard at altitude in front of 50,000 Springboks supporters.
“It is about as tough as it gets, but I think what the squad has done off the back of a disappointing end to the Six Nations is we’ve really come together.
“We have said it is almost like a fresh start, a clean slate, and just go out there with a bit of freedom and really express ourselves.
“Because if we listen to everything that is being reported, everything in the media, fans, pundits and everyone, we may as well not turn up and have three weeks on holiday here.
“So from our point of view, it will show a lot of character about us on Saturday, and I am hoping that can shine through.
“We played here in 2014, in Durban for the first Test, and we were out of the game inside 20 minutes.
— Springboks (@Springboks) July 1, 2022
“We got absolutely blown away, and they are a very difficult team to play against at the best of times, let alone when you’ve got to chase the game.
“We are all aware of what lies in wait if we can pull off one of the best Wales victories in the modern era.”
Biggar leads a team that shows eight changes from the Italy debacle, with the likes of full-back Liam Williams, centre George North and lock Will Rowlands all returning, while Leicester flanker Tommy Reffell makes his Test debut.
And Biggar is among eight players in Wales’ match-day 23 who featured on the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa last year, while for a number of others it will be a first Springboks experience away from home.
“Obviously, a few of us were here last year when it was very different in terms of being stuck in a hotel for 23 hours of the day and an hour out for training. It was really tough work,” he said.
“When you have got young guys who perhaps haven’t experienced what it is like to play against this side, you have nothing to compare it to and you have no fear because you haven’t faced it, and I think that is a really good thing for us as a squad.
“There are a lot of boys who haven’t experienced it and are just chomping at the bit to go out and get stuck into what is a world-class XV that the Springboks have named.”
Wales assistant coaches Stephen Jones and Gethin Jenkins were part of the Lions starting line-up beaten 28-25 by South Africa at Loftus Versfeld in 2009.
“They have said it is one of the best places to play rugby in terms of a hostile crowd, really in your face getting stuck in and supporting the Springboks,” Biggar continued.
“I think that is brilliant. We played there 12 months ago in one of the (Lions) tour games, and for such a historic stadium it was just soulless without the crowd.
“I think that will get the best out of us on Saturday. As difficult and intimidating as it is, it’s also a real challenge for us.
“When we’ve had tough defeats as a team, we have always responded quite well.”