The Springboks will need to outsmart one of the craftiest teams in Test rugby to win the clash at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI in Dublin reports.
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland went into the clash against the Boks in 2014 as underdogs. They were expected to struggle on the 2016 tour to South Africa. Nobody gave them a chance ahead of a subsequent game against the All Blacks in Chicago.
Yet Schmidt’s plucky side thumped the Boks in Dublin, secured a historic win on South Africa soil two years later, and then stunned the rugby world when they beat the All Blacks at Soldier Field.
A year on, and Ireland head into a monumental game against the Boks as favourites. This much has been inferred by the tourists over the past few days. Head coach Allister Coetzee recently described Schmidt’s team as ‘the All Blacks of Europe’ due to the way they innovate and keep opposition sides guessing.
Perhaps it’s a ploy by the Boks. Then again, perhaps Coetzee and company really don’t know what to expect from Ireland this Saturday.
Can Ireland surprise the Boks, as they did in 2014 and to some extent across the three matches played in 2016? At this stage of their development – the side has been together for some time now – can they really bring something new to the table?
‘Always,’ barked assistant coach Matt Proudfoot when this was put to him by SARugbymag.co.za on Tuesday.
‘It’s not just a brute challenge as it may be in a Currie Cup game. There’s a real intellect around Ireland’s lineout play close to the line. Joe Schmidt is smart. He shows you one thing and then he does another.
‘Brendan [Venter, the Bok defence coach] has spent a lot of time looking at what they do on attack. There is depth to their talent. It’s not just one thing. It’s this, and this, and this. That’s why they are so successful.’
Much too has been made about their offensive defence. Indeed, Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell toured New Zealand with the British & Irish Lions earlier this year, and received deserved plaudits following the 1-1 result.
‘Ireland have a really good defensive plan,’ said Proudfoot. ‘They frustrated us last year in that three-game series. They really looked to limit our momentum with the ability to tackle low and then contest fiercely on the ground.
‘If you carry too high they can hold you up. They can really stifle your attacking momentum with their line speed. There are a few criteria they need to generate that.
‘Ireland did well to hem in the All Blacks in Chicago last year. As much as the All Blacks tried, they couldn’t break the shackles. So we know what a challenge it’s going to be when we meet them this Saturday.’
What are the Boks cooking up in response? At this stage Coetzee and Proudfoot are playing their tactical cards close to the chest.
One thing is for certain, the Boks and especially the coaching staff are under pressure to win matches on this tour to the northern hemisphere. To do that, Coetzee will need to outwit Schmidt and his coaching team.
As seen in the recent match against the All Blacks, the Boks have rediscovered their abrasive edge. It will take brains as well as brawn to bring down this Irish side at home, though.
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