‘Boks are more dangerous than ever’

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

‘Boks are more dangerous than ever,’ declares the Irish Independent. The newspaper adds that Heyneke Meyer’s men are ‘no longer reliant on brute force to crush opponents, South Africa’s focus on skill is paying dividends.’

Neil Francis is evidently taken with a team that featured in the unforgettable match at Ellis Park last year, and a team that beat the All Blacks at the same venue in 2014. In his column, the former Ireland forward remembers playing against South Africa and rates them as the most physical opponent. Francis then dedicates the rest of his column to complimenting the Boks on their subtle improvements. It’s clear who he is backing to win at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday.

‘They have too much quality and power, and more importantly, they have rested and ramped up again whereas Ireland come to the arena only lukewarm. It will take a special performance [by Ireland].’

The pack that fronts the Boks will be missing some key players. On Wednesday, hooker Rory Best joined a group of injured stars that includes flanker Sean O’Brien and prop Cian Healy. It’s for this reason why a columnist in the Irish Times feels the ‘Springbok bully boys likely to have too much up front for “nice” Ireland’.

Risteard Cooper’s description of the Bok forwards is colourful to say the least.

‘Mixed with gnarled, grizzly forwards such as Bismarck du Plessis, Duane Vermeulen, and the less than laid back Bakkies Botha springing from the bench, their entire pack look like they wouldn’t be out of place in the remake of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The only difference is that you can picture these boys hunting for their dinner … if there’s a dust-up this Saturday you’d imagine it could involve any of the Springbok pack, but outside of [flanker] Peter “Mad Dog” O’Mahony it’s hard to envisage any Irish player being the aggressor.’

Elsewhere in today’s edition of The Times, it’s suggested that injuries will force Ireland coach Joe Schmidt to make some bold selections. Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin and Mike Ross will start in the front row, and, to much of the media contingent’s shock, Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne in the centres.

‘The coach’s hand has been forced to a degree in the midfield,’ writes Gerry Thornley, ‘but although [veteran No 12] Gordon D’Arcy was unable to train last week, he has trained this week, is playing well and is fit to go, so therefore it is something of a surprise that Schmidt and co have opted for a pairing of the thrice-capped Henshaw and the debutant Payne.’

The Irish Daily Mail has run a profile on Bok captain Jean de Villiers. The strapping centre spent a season with Munster in 2009-10, and while he never made much of an impact as a player, he is well loved by fans and journalists in this part of the world. The article in today’s edition of The Mail is titled: ‘An iconic leader who has grown in adversity’. The writer, Shane McGrath, notes that while De Villiers’s career has ‘soared and dipped, he has maintained an admirable dignity. He is a man the Boks would not swap for anyone.’

Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip is well aware of the challenge that lies ahead.

‘They’re a much better team than [when we last player them] two years ago,’ he told the Irish Examiner. ‘Their backine is operating better. A lot of their game is still about getting momentum. We have to negate that, especially at their launch, especially off the set piece.'

By Jon Cardinelli