A physical bout against Ireland will prepare the Springboks for their heavyweight clash against England on 15 November, reports JON CARDINELLI in Dublin.
The Boks have good reason to feel confident. These past two weeks, senior players such as Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield have spoken about the benefits of ‘resting’ during the latter stages of the Currie Cup. The contracted players have focused solely on the tour to the northern hemisphere, and have spent more time preparing for the challenge than ever before.
The feeling in the camp is that the four-game tour can effectively be divided in half, and that the first two matches will be the toughest. It’s vital that the Boks start well in Dublin, and build some momentum ahead of the most physically demanding clash of the year in London. Once those two boxes have been ticked, coach Heyneke Meyer can look to the latter two matches as an opportunity to develop some alternate combinations.
But it all starts in Dublin this week. Matfield said recently that Ireland possess the best set piece in world rugby, a statement that is based on stats. The Boks expect a challenge at the lineout and scrum this Saturday, and they would do well to be wary of the Irish at the breakdown. Ireland are not the reigning Six Nations champions for nothing.
Ireland are the dark horses of Test rugby. They beat Australia during the group stages of the 2011 World Cup, and eventually won that group. More recently, they travelled to Paris for the 2014 Six Nations decider and defeated a passionate France side 22-20.
Recent battles between the Boks and Ireland have been closely contested. Ireland edged the Boks 15-10 at Croke Park in 2009, at a time when South Africa were the No 1 side on the planet. Since then, the Boks have regained the initiative, winning the past two match-ups in Dublin. However, a look at the scorelines of those two encounters will illustrate how hard it is to win in the Irish capital. The Boks sneaked home 23-21 in 2010, and then 16-12 in 2012.
From what I’m hearing, the current Bok group is well aware of the potential pitfalls and will take the right attitude into Saturday’s match at the Aviva Stadium. As is the case with all Tests played in the northern hemisphere, the contest up front will have a great influence on the outcome.
And yet, the Boks have reason to be confident. Matfield is correct when he says Ireland are statistically the best at the set pieces. The detail that he failed to mention, however, is that Ireland have not played the Boks or All Blacks in 2014, and so those statistics need to be seen in perspective.
Ireland will be the underdogs this weekend, even though they are playing at home. The game will provide the Boks with a good opportunity to adjust to the northern hemisphere conditions, and Ireland will demand that the Boks play with accuracy and intensity up front. This physical examination will do the Boks some good.
The Boks can’t look too far ahead, but they will know that the biggest clash of the tour is against England at Twickenham on 15 November. Meyer’s men will want to strengthen their psychological hold on England just a year out from the World Cup. They will aim to record yet another victory at Twickenham, since this venue will host the semi-final and the final of the 2015 showpiece.
Any complacency could cost the Boks dearly. Indeed, even the best teams have come short in the past when they’ve approached these tours to the north with the wrong attitude.
In 2009, the Boks beat the British & Irish Lions, and then won the Tri-Nations. Their preparation ahead of the tour to Europe was inadequate, and their attitude largely complacent. As a result, they were physically humbled in the matches against France and Ireland.
Meyer is adamant that history will not repeat itself. The Boks need to make a statement this weekend, not only in terms of a result but in terms of a physical performance. This will provide them with some terrific momentum ahead of the battle against England, as well as the remaining matches against Italy and Wales.
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