By Andrew Baldock, PA Rugby Union Correspondent
Wales’ testing Autumn Nations Series campaign looks set to receive a timely boost with the expected return of two British and Irish Lions for Saturday’s clash against South Africa.
Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit and Northampton fly-half Dan Biggar appear on course to face the Springboks.
They are both available again after last weekend’s appointment with New Zealand fell outside World Rugby’s autumn international window.
Wales head coach Wayne Pivac is due to announce his starting line-up on Thursday, with Lions Alun Wyn Jones and Ross Moriarty his latest absentees.
Both players are set for shoulder operations following injuries suffered during the 54-16 All Blacks defeat, joining fellow Lions like George North, Leigh Halfpenny, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi and Taulupe Faletau on Pivac’s unavailable list.
Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies, who led Wales in their summer Tests against Canada and Argentina, is favourite to take over captaincy duties from Jones.
Will Rowlands is expected to feature in the second row, with Jones sidelined, Ellis Jenkins could be Pivac’s choice as replacement for Moriarty, while centre Nick Tompkins and prop Rhys Carre are also thought to be pushing for starts.
Cardiff flanker Jenkins has not played Test rugby since suffering a serious knee injury when Wales beat South Africa in Cardiff three years ago.
Wales can reflect on four successive home wins against South Africa, with the Springboks not having triumphed in Cardiff since 2013.
But the world champions, even minus injured stars Faf de Klerk and Cheslin Kolbe, are firm favourites this time around, showing just three changes – all behind the scrum – following victory over Rugby Championship opponents New Zealand a month ago.
“They are very physical with a big kicking game, so we have got to deal with that and front up physically,” Wales scrum-half Tomos Williams said.
“I think the maximum is about four games of regional rugby that most of the boys have played this season, and last Saturday was a good lesson for us. It was a big step up in terms of intensity and speed.
“Everyone knows how good Faf de Klerk is, but the other two (Herschel Jantjies and Cobus Reinach) are good nines as well.
“They have both got their qualities, and I don’t know if it changes too much within their game-plan. We have just got to adapt to it.
“They are going to be physical – there are no ifs or buts about that. We are confident we can match that in the pack.”
🇿🇦 Four changes to the Springbok match-23 for Wales
➡️ Willemse, Kriel and Jantjies to start in Cardiff
🗣️ "We know that this is going to be a hard grind"
👉 Team announcement: https://t.co/boJO7xHIlU#StrongerTogether #StrongerForever pic.twitter.com/n2Wfpyols3
— Springboks (@Springboks) November 2, 2021
The kicking battle is set to be a key element of Saturday’s encounter, and Wales assistant coach Neil Jenkins added: “There will be a lot of aerial bombardments on Saturday, I am sure, certainly from them, and there will be a few from us as well.
“The battle of the air is huge in today’s rugby, and you need to come out on the right side of it.
“It doesn’t change from an aerial perspective. These kicks are on the money and they are 50-50.
“You have got a 50 per cent chance of winning it or a 50 per cent chance of losing it, and the crumbs and scraps are a big part of that as well.
“There are a lot of things that go into those areas, and we will be working hard this week to try and get that right and give ourselves the best possible chance of taking those aerial bombs and trying to implement our attack from there.”