South Africa boss Rassie Erasmus has described Wales head coach Warren Gatland as “an absolute legend of the game” prior to Sunday’s World Cup semi-final.
Gatland has two games left – a semi-final and then either a final or third place play-off – before his 12-year Wales reign ends.
Wales have won four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, during that time, and reached two World Cup semi-finals.
“Warren is an absolute legend of the game,” Springboks rugby director Erasmus said. “You very seldom see him in a mouth-fight and mud-slinging before Test matches.
“I’ve never been there having to reply to something he says, and he doesn’t bite at you to create unnecessary nonsense before a Test match, so I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a person.
“His results on the field speak for themselves, with the Welsh team and the British and Irish Lions.”
Gatland will coach the Lions against South Africa in 2021, and Erasmus added: “I will see him in the future.
“We will definitely compete again, and it is always a pleasure competing with him because he is a gentleman on and off the field, and he deserves all the credit that goes his way.”
Cheslin Kolbe, meanwhile, has has been ruled out of Sunday’s game in Yokohama due to an ankle injury.
The Springboks’ star wing suffered the injury against Pool B opponents Canada, and then aggravated it during the quarter-final victory over Japan four days ago.
He has been replaced by S’bu Nkosi as a solitary change to the starting line-up that accounted for Japan.
It is a major blow for South Africa, given Kolbe’s renowned game-breaking and try-scoring ability.
He has lit up the World Cup in Japan with some of his performances, and Wales assistant coach Shaun Edwards recently likened his ability to England World Cup winner Jason Robinson.
“It is a big blow. Everybody knows the quality of player he is and the contribution he has made,” Erasmus said.
“But if we looked purely at his performance in the previous game, his ankle definitely had an influence on his performance.
“We just feel a fully fit S’bu, and the way S’bu has been performing, if you compare the two, a 70 per cent Cheslin isn’t better than a 100 per cent S’bu.
“So, it is a blow, but we have full confidence in S’bu, especially with the way he has been playing. He certainly deserves his chance.”
Erasmus has gone for a split of six forwards and just two backs among his replacements as South Africa bid to reach a third World Cup final.
While South Africa have lost Kolbe’s services, Wales hope that centre Jonathan Davies will be fit after he missed last weekend’s quarter-final victory over France due to a knee injury.
“If they lose him, they will definitely lose a guy who is intimidating, who has got soft skills and experience,” Erasmus said.
“But then again, they’ve still got Liam (Williams) there, (Dan) Biggar, good guys off the bench.
“If they do lose him, they will lose somebody like we’ve lost Cheslin, but hell, they’ve got some great other players as well.
“I think we have been under pressure for the past couple of years to redeem ourselves.
“We’ve been number five, six, seven in the world over the last three years since 2015, and we’ve got some proper hidings against almost all the teams.
“Some people lost a lot of faith in us at some stages, so we’ve got a different challenge all in all.
“We were just trying to get some respect back at the beginning, so that people could start believing in us as a team.
“Now, we are at that stage where we want to become number one in the world again.”