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07th Nov 2014

Burning Issue: Will Ireland beat the Springboks on Saturday?

It's a big ask, but can Joe Schmidt's men topple the second best team in world rugby this weekend?

Conor Heneghan

It’s a big ask, but can Joe Schmidt’s men topple the second best team in world rugby this weekend?

Conor Heneghan says: There are any amount of reasons for pessimism ahead of Ireland’s meeting with the Springboks this weekend.

Heyneke Meyer signalled his intentions from the off by naming the same team that beat the All-Blacks last month. A number of key Irish players are injured. A few more are inexperienced at international test level. The bookies are quoting us at odds of 5/2 to win. Did we mention that South African team?

So yeah, if you’re a glass half empty type of a person then the prospects of Ireland taking the scalp of the Springboks on Saturday is located somewhere between slim and none. But I’d rather focus on the positives.

It’s probably an Irish trait but we have a tendency at times to approach games against the bigger sides with a little bit of trepidation and fear. Even when we took the exact opposite approach against the New Zealand this time last year and said to hell with it, there’s no doubt that sheer reputation alone was one of the reasons that the All-Blacks ended up clawing their way back into the game and eventually snatching victory.

Yes, South Africa are the second best side in the world, they’ve just beaten the All-Blacks and they’re not like the slightly predictable (but still pretty damn good) South Africa sides of old.

So what? Treat them with respect but no more. Apologies in advance for the pumped-up machismo but we’re Ireland, we’re Six Nations Champions and the South Africans are coming to our house on Saturday so let’s stand tall, beat our chests and show them what we’re about.

In all seriousness though, even with the hugely significant absences – there aren’t many international teams that Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien wouldn’t make – there is something exciting about the team that Joe Schmidt has named for Saturday, in the backline in particular.

Sure, Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne are untried and untested in the centre but in the post O’Driscoll era it was always going to be a completely new departure in midfield. Outside of those two, Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo are arguably the two most exciting wingers available to Joe Schmidt right now and providing he shows no ill-effects from recent injury problems, Rob Kearney is solidity personified at full-back. The counter-attacking threat provided by those three is pretty significant.

Trying to get that backline ticking will be one of the best half-back partnerships in world rugby right now. Conor Murray is in the form of his life and if Jonathan Sexton isn’t the best 10 in the northern hemisphere right now then he’s not far off it. If those two play well and get the edge over Handré Pollard and Francois Hougaard we’re in with a great chance.

While the ball-carrying ability of Sean O’Brien will be sorely missed, Schmidt has been able to achieve consistency with the same players filling jerseys 3-8 as they did in the Six Nations although admittedly, the Springboks, with one of the most experienced (Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira will be extending a record of 15 tests starting together) and fearsome front-row units around, look to have the edge over us in the front row battle.

So, yeah, it’s going to be tough, but there hasn’t been an awful lot of noise coming out of the Irish camp this week and I have the feeling they might be about to turn it up to eleven come Saturday evening.

If anyone can, Schmidt can.

Alan Loughnane says… It’s with a heavy heart that I say that Ireland will, unfortunately, lose against South Africa on Saturday.

I always hate to take such a pessimistic view coming into a game but with the key injuries Ireland have suffered, it will be very surprising if Joe Schmidt can mastermind a win this weekend.

On Saturday, Ireland face off against the in-form team in the world. A team that ended the All Blacks’ winning run last time out in the Rugby Championship. Considering the front line players we are missing, such as Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien and Rory Best, a win from Ireland would be up there with the performance we produced against the All Blacks last November.

Even though they won the World Cup in 2007, over the last few years South Africa have always been a side that you would fancy Ireland to turn over if they played to their potential. They didn’t have the same skill set of the All Blacks or the flair that the Wallabies possess, but they were an extremely physical side that took pride in dominating collisions and the tackle area in general. However, the fact that they have a slightly more basic game plan than the other two southern hemisphere powerhouses means that while they are consistently good and physical, they are a very beatable team.

Now, they are very much a more rounded team. The days of the inevitable snowstorm of kicks and up and unders are a thing of the past. Don’t get me wrong, they still kick but it’s balanced out with a very clever running game that is very much based upon the genius of full-back Willie le Roux.

They still possess the same bruising ball-carriers in the form of Duane Vermuelen, Eben Etzebeth and Jean de Villiers, but they also have the flair players like le Roux and Handre Pollard, who have the ability to unlock defences with quick feet and beautiful passing rather than simply trying to run over them. Keep an eye for le Roux on Saturday; he is one of the most gifted ball players in the world today and his counter-attacking will be a huge danger to Ireland.

Ireland come into the game with their provinces in indifferent form and the inaugural Champions Cup has hardly been a success for the provinces with Ulster basically eliminated after two losses, Leinster winning but unconvincingly so and Munster earning two hard-fought wins, although it must be said these were good results for the province. Beating Saracens was vital to their ambitions in the competition.

We are Six Nations champions and as such, South Africa have named the same team that defeated New Zealand in the Rugby Championship. This shows that they have probably identified Ireland as the toughest test they will face on the tour. Ireland, in comparison, have a much-changed team (six of the starting team are missing) to the one that won the Six Nations in Paris this year. To put it into context, no player that wore the 11,12,13, or 14 jerseys in Paris are in the squad for the match against South Africa. Mostly this is because of injury and in the case of Brian O’Driscoll, retirement.

Ireland still have some very good players and let me make it clear, I am not writing off an Irish victory, I just think that under the circumstances, it will be quite difficult for them to defeat this very good Springboks side. The midfield pairing of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne will be busy on Saturday but against the straight running Jan Serfontein and Jean de Villiers, they should be in for an easier day than if they were facing the likes of Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu.

But overall, South Africa will have just too much in the tank for Ireland, and despite a valiant effort from our boys, I think South Africa will win by 10-15 points.