UP AGAINST South Africa. The two-time winners. In the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup. At Twickenham.
That’s the nonchalant reaction of 20-year-old Tyler Morgan, who will feature for Wales at outside centre today in what promises to be a memorable third international cap.
“It doesn’t get much bigger for him,” Wales kicking coach Neil Jenkins said yesterday. “He’s a fantastic young talent, confident kid. He trained pretty well over the summer [at Welsh camps] in Switzerland and Doha, and played pretty well against Fiji.
“I’ve seen him in training this week and he’s in a pretty good place. I have got no doubt he’ll be fine tomorrow.”
In a backline depleted by injuries, Morgan has been the centre of a debate in Wales on whether he or the vastly more experienced James Hook should fill the No 13 jersey. Wales coach Warren Gatland settled it on Thursday at the team announcement, putting his faith in Morgan and saying it wasn’t much of a debate to him.
Morgan’s coach at Newport Gwent Dragons, Lyn Jones, pointed out than one of the young midfielder’s virtues was poise under pressure.
Wales’ youngest squad member agreed. “I get over things pretty easily,” Morgan said.
It’s usually the first time he does anything that it’s the hardest.
“I always seem to get chucked in the deep end,” Morgan said. “My first game in the [Welsh] Premiership [for Newport] was a Cross Keys derby, and my first Pro12 was [Welsh derby] Judgement Day, and my first international was Ireland, who were second in the world at the time.
“They have all been great opportunities, then, after that first time, I think I am a lot more composed.”
Morgan doesn’t mean to come off as boastful or trite. He really isn’t fazed about the magnitude of the match, nor whom he faces. He’s played against Springboks midfielders Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel before at youth level. He respects them but also believes they can be attacked. “They still have a bit of inexperience,” he said without irony. What Morgan can barely believe is playing alongside winger George North, whom he met for the first time after winning and scoring a try in the Welsh Schools Cup final in 2011. North was there to shake hands with the teenagers.
“If someone had said then what would be happening now, I would have bitten their hand off,” Morgan said. “Now I am playing with him on the weekend. It is pretty unreal.”
Much of the focus has been on Wales and their extended injury list but South Africa skipper Fourie du Preez has backed the Springboks to stand up and be counted again as they continue their impressive World Cup recovery act four weeks after they were humbled by Japan.
Victory over Wales at Twickenham would take Du Preez and company into the last four, which is a far cry from the desolate scenes that accompanied their 34-32 Pool B loss to Japan.
“It [Japan defeat] was obviously a massive shock, but it could have gone much worse,” Du Preez said. “We had Samoa next, which was a very big battle for us, and then Scotland, who are on the up. We could have lost three in a row and we would have been the worst Springbok team of all time.
“We had to focus a little bit more. There was massive pressure for us and I am very proud how each member of the team and management team stood up after that.
“We could either lie down or stand up, and I think that we showed that we stood up and I think tomorrow we are going to stand up again.”