Jamie Roberts has braced Wales for “physical warfare” in today’s World Cup quarter-final against South Africa at Twickenham.
Roberts knows from vivid personal memory just how punishing an appointment with the Springboks can be.
“The challenge above all else is to get the mind right and put your body on the line for physical warfare,” said Wales centre Roberts.
“I will never forget the second Lions Test at Loftus Versfeld (Pretoria) in 2009 when there were five of us in the hospital afterwards. That was interesting.
“Adam (Jones) came off with a shoulder which took two or three hours to get back in, Gethin (Jenkins) smashed his face, (Brian) O’Driscoll got a clout on his head, I injured my wrist and ended up needing an operation on it and Tommy Bowe hurt his elbow.
“There were five of us in an ambulance after that game going to the hospital. That is what lies in store for us this weekend.
“It’s pretty gruesome, but that is the nature of the game now. You have got to be prepared to put your body on the line and take it to places where you haven’t been before.
“It is a World Cup quarter-final, and to play in games of this magnitude is what you dream about.
“A lot of this squad played in a World Cup semi-final four years ago, and when you do all those hours of training you dream of playing in these games and of seizing the opportunity.
“This week, all the players are relaxed, but ready for complete warfare, come the 80 minutes.”
Wales lost 16 successive Tests against South Africa between 2000 and 2014, but the last two meetings should provide 73 times-capped Roberts and company with cause for optimism.
Wales were beaten 31-30 by the Springboks in Nelspruit 16 months ago after conceding a late penalty try, then they avenged that result last November, winning 12-6 in Cardiff, with 10 members of that starting line-up back for more this weekend.
“Having played South Africa many times in my career, you have to match them physically before anything else,” he added.
“The way they play the game, if you lose the battle of the gain-line you are 80-90 per cent towards losing the game.
“They pressurise teams in defence, but their aerial game is huge.
“You don’t have to be a rugby connoisseur to work out how they are going to play the game.
“There is no doubt that when South Africa play like South Africa – and do it well – they are a very difficult team to beat.
“They have gone back to how they play the game best – that’s how they won the World Cup (in 2007).
“That is the challenge that faces us, but for us to get that win last November was a huge step in our learning curve.
“You have to gather experience from previous games, and I look down the years at the times we’ve played Australia, South Africa and New Zealand – traditionally the top three sides in the world – and there are always moments when you look back and reflect and think ‘we did the wrong thing there’.
“Slowly over the last five to seven years, since the core of this squad has been together, we’ve started making the right calls at the right time.”
Wales emerged from unquestionably the toughest group in World Cup history, joining Australia in the last eight as England and Fiji missed out, while they also overcame crushing injury setbacks that denied them players like Leigh Halfpenny, Rhys Webb and Scott Williams.
Roberts’s midfield partner today will be 20-year-old Newport Gwent Dragons centre Tyler Morgan, who was playing schoolboy rugby when Wales were 2011 World Cup semi-finalists, and wins only his third cap.
“I spoke after the Fiji game and said I felt he made some really good decisions on the ball – and without it,” Roberts said. “He is probably mature beyond his years. On the international stage that’s a good sign, young players making good decisions, especially given the number of caps that he has.
“So I think he’s ready for it. He is physical, he is young, he is willing to learn, he is energetic. He has got all the attributes to help Wales win a World Cup quarter-final.”