Boks brace for aerial assault

The Springboks remain wary of Ireland’s defence-fracturing kicking game ahead of the first Test at Newlands, reports JON CARDINELLI​.

It’s been nearly two years since the Boks were hammered and humbled on a wet night in Dublin. Ireland outmuscled and out-thought a South African side that was coming off a win against the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship.

On that occasion, Ireland got the better of the Boks at the set pieces. Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton benefited from the front-foot ball provided by their forwards. The Ireland halfbacks kicked into the space behind the South African defence, and the hosts won the territorial battle.

The good news for the Boks is that Sexton has been ruled out of the three-Test series this June. Paddy Jackson is expected to start at No 10 for the tourists, while Ian Madigan should provide cover from the bench.

Nevertheless, the Boks remain wary of Ireland’s kicking game, and of their New Zealand-born coach Joe Schmidt, who orchestrated wins over South Africa and Australia in November 2014.

‘The kicking game will be especially important this week,’ said Bok captain Adriaan Strauss, who played in that 29-15 loss to Ireland in Dublin. 'We’ve had a close look at that part of their game, and are mindful of what happened before.

‘They use those broken-field kicks to good effect. Their set pieces looks to put you under pressure. Their maul is very competitive and of course they will be a force at the breakdown. We’ve been working hard over the past week or so in preparation for those challenges.’

The Boks have been vocal about their desire to improve on attack. Their defence and kicking game, however, will need to be accurate if they are to subdue Ireland and win all three Tests. The inexperienced halfback group may be targeted by the Irish.

Even at this late stage, Elton Jantjies remains in doubt for the first Test. There is a chance that Pat Lambie will start at flyhalf, while rookie Garth April could feature from the bench. Lambie boasts 50 caps. Jantjies has just two, while April made his Super Rugby debut for the Sharks earlier this season.

The Boks are equally limited in terms of experienced scrumhalf options. Rudy Paige won two Test caps at the 2015 World Cup. Faf de Klerk and Nic Groom are yet to play for the Boks.

Photo: Patrick Bolger/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli