• ‘Beating Boks would be a shock’

    What the Irish newspapers are saying ahead of the Test at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

    The weather may be clear and fair in Dublin at the moment, but the outlook for the national rugby team is bleak. There isn’t much rugby coverage in today’s local papers, with other codes such as football and hurling dominating the sports pages. What's clear in the few pieces there are is that most scribes aren’t optimistic about Ireland’s chances.

    Injuries have hit Joe Schmidt’s side hard, and the latest concern is flyhalf Jonathan Sexton, who tweaked a hamstring playing for Racing Métro this past Saturday. The Irish Times ponders Schmidt’s options, and also laments the injury struggles of props Cian Healy and Mike Ross, as well as flank Sean O’Brien.

    ‘Schmidt’s depleted side will do well to weather the storm’ barks a headline in the Irish Independent. Ruaidhri O’Connor writes that each week brings another injury crisis to give fans ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder and Joe Schmidt a migraine’. O’Connor says that Ireland’s best chance of defeating one of the three southern hemisphere giants will be in the clash against Australia later this month. However, writes O’Connor, the South Africans may soften Ireland up for the Aussies.

    The Independent has also run a big interview with former South African U20 captain CJ Stander. The Munster loose forward has reiterated his dream to play for Ireland one day, as this headline indicates: ‘If I get the chance to play for Ireland, I’ll sing the anthem with all my heart.’ Stander will only be eligible to play for Ireland in October 2015.

    The Sunday papers went into greater detail about the Emerald Greens’ chances against the Boks. The consensus seems to be that Ireland will go down at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

    The Sunday Times focused on veteran lock Paul O’Connell and his looming battle with Victor Matfield. Peter O’Reilly said that Matfield is indispensable to the Bok cause and ‘something of a preoccupation for O’Connell’ despite the fact that Matfield is now 37. The two have enjoyed many great tussles over the years, and have a great deal of respect for one another. 

    The 35-year-old O’Connell has watched the tape of the recent South Africa vs New Zealand Test again, and noted how Matfield succeeded in disrupting the All Blacks lineout and ultimately their attacking momentum.

    ‘That’s why Heyneke Meyer brought him back [out of retirement in early 2014],’ O’Connell said. ‘Sometimes, as a player, you can go a bit stale, and so you look at the best people and the best lineout teams. I’ve looked at Matfield’s old stuff. He’s still doing a lot of the same things he was doing before, but he does it so well that teams struggle to come near him or the Boks.’

    O’Connell added that the Boks would do well to play a more direct game this weekend.

    ‘Why wouldn’t they play to their strengths? They have some big powerful, men, a brilliant set piece a brilliant maul, a brilliant kick-pressure game, and then you add that backline.’

    In his column, O’Reilly reflects on recent comments made by Schmidt that are seemingly preparing the Irish community for another loss to the Boks. O’Reilly writes that beating Australia this November is a more realistic goal for Ireland, and that a home win against the Boks would come as a shock. He remarks on the Boks’ progress by writing: ‘this is a very different South African team to the one that biffed their way to a 16-12 win two years ago’.

    Writing for the Sunday Independent, Neil Francis concentrates on Ireland’s problem positions of No 3 and 13. As far as outside centre is concerned, Ireland are still coming to terms with the retirement of Brian O’Driscoll.

    ‘For once in Schmidt’s coaching career, he has to pick players when he knows they are not good enough,’ said Francis, who then explains why prospective players like Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw are not up to the task.

    By Jon Cardinelli

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    Jon Cardinelli