Ireland: Champion killers?

4 11 2010

Original article written for therugbyblog.co.uk

Ireland host the current World Champions this Saturday. Ireland go into this game with an impressive record against the Springboks, South Africa haven’t won in Dublin since 2000, and the last time South Africa beat them at home was in 2004. An added edge to this game will be that it is likely the next time these two teams face each other will be in the Quarter-Finals of the RWC in New Zealand next October!
Peter DeVilliers is under increasing pressure at home after a dismal season so far by South Africa. Ireland last outing against South Africa last year saw them come out on top 15-10. Irish forwards coach, former South African assistant-coach, Gert Smal did more than teach the Irish pack how to jump in a lineout before the test, he taught them enough Afrikaans to understand the ‘Boks lineout-calls, leading to Ireland dominating in that area! This year I somehow doubt it’ll be as easy to turnover the Springbok lineout.

Injuries:
Both teams have been dogged by injury in recent weeks, this series of games will truly test the depth of their respective squads, perhaps a good thing 12 months from a World Cup? Paul O’Connell, Jerry Flannery and Tomas O’Leary are all unavailable for the Irish, while questions remain about Brian O’Driscoll, Keith Earls, Gordon D’Arcy and Rory Best’s fitness going into this game. Of course, this pales into insignificance when you look at the list of Springboks not available to tour through injury: Jaque Fourie, Olivier, De Jongh, John Smit, Andries Bekker, Fourie du Preez, Heinrich Brüssow, JP Pietersen, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Butch James, Schalk Burger, Ricky Januarie and BJ Botha.

So who is left? These are the three main areas of interest for me in this weeks test:

Half-Backs:
Springboks will most likely start with halfback pairing of Francois Hougaard and Morné Steyn. Ireland will with the Leinster pairing of Eoin Reddan and Johnny Sexton. Steyn will be under instruction to kick for points at every opportunity to keep the scoreboard ticking for South Africa. And if that isn’t working out, South Africa have youngster Patrick Lambie to spring from the bench to take over duties. Johnny Sexton has a chance here to make the Irish number 10 jersey his won before the World Cup, Ronan O’Gara will be ready to pounce should he make any mistakes.

Brian Habana v Tommy Bowe:
Last time these two met was on the Lions tour last year, see the video below for the huge hit Habana put in on Bowe. Two of the greatest wingers in the world will go head to head this weekend, In-form Bowe has looked far sharper than Habana who is coming off the back of a blunder-filled Tri Nations and losing the Currie Cup final to the Sharks last weekend.

2nd Row:
What can anyone say about one of the most successful 2nd rown partnerships in World Rugby, Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield? Matfield has incredible athleticism and intelligent reading of opposition throws. Bakkies brings the metal and physicality. One thing is for sure the Irish 2nd row of Donnacha O’Callaghan and Mick O’Driscoll will have to bring their A-game on Saturday.

Player to watch:
20year-old Sharks utility back Patrick Lambie should make an appearance from the bench, he scored 25 points for the Sharks in the Currie Cup final at the weekend and looked extremely dangerous.

Prediction:
Ireland have been in camp for nearly two weeks and should be well prepared, South Africa only arrive in Ireland on Wednesday night and have not had a camp as such due to the Currie Cup final last weekend. This does not leave nearly enough preparation time for an already disjointed squad. Will this tour be the end of Peter DeVilliers? Possibly. I can see Ireland beating them well this weekend, Ireland by 14.


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