‘Breakdown key to success’

Adriaan Strauss says the Springboks will need to lift their breakdown performance if they are to realise their twin objectives in the series against Ireland. JON CARDINELLI reports.

Over the past six weeks, Bok coach Allister Coetzee has been clear about the team’s goals in the three-Test series against Ireland. South Africa must start this new four-year cycle on a winning note. They must also endeavour to play a more balanced brand of rugby.

The Boks have never lost a Test to Ireland in South Africa. However, a record of four losses in the last six Tests against Ireland doesn't make for encouraging reading.

The Boks' most recent performance against Ireland in November 2014 was particularly embarrassing. On a wet night in Dublin, the Boks went down 29-15. The margin of defeat would have been greater if not for a try by JP Pietersen in the 79th minute.

Fortunately for the Boks, Ireland have regressed in recent months. Joe Schmidt’s charges followed up a disappointing 2015 World Cup campaign with a third-place finish in the 2016 Six Nations.

Ireland will tour South Africa this June without many of their best players. Flankers Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony, prop Cian Healy, wingers Luke Fitzgerald and Tommy Bowe, as well as fullback Rob Kearney are some of the players who will not make the trip because of injuries.

The biggest loss, however, is that of Johnny Sexton. The British & Irish Lions flyhalf has certainly hurt South Africa in the past with his tactical- and goal-kicking accuracy.

Nevertheless, the Boks will be looking to make a statement in the coming Tests at Newlands, Ellis Park and Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. If the Boks start the series well in Cape Town and maintain their effort over the subsequent two weeks, they could well win the rubber 3-0.

In an interview with SARugbymag.co.za, new Bok captain Adriaan Strauss outlined South Africa’s goals for the series. The Boks want three Test wins. At the same time, they want to make some progress in terms of their attacking game. According to Strauss, both goals may depend on their success in one area of the contest.

‘Ireland will be missing one or two guys on this tour, but I believe they are still strong throughout the team,’ the Bok captain told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘They still have a very good pack. They look to dominate you physically, and are very good at the breakdown.

‘We’ve spoken a lot about our goals for this season, and how we want to play an all-round game. To do that, you have to make sure that your breakdown is working. Ireland will present us with a good challenge in that area. I’m looking forward to it.’

While Ireland are missing a couple of key loose forwards, the likes of Jamie Heaslip and former Bulls flank CJ Stander should make their presence felt at the rucks and collisions. Another South African-born player in hooker Richard Strauss may feature at some stage in the series.

The Bok captain said he is looking forward to meeting his cousin on the battlefield. Adriaan and Richardt came through the Free State junior ranks together, and later represented the Cheetahs in Super Rugby. Richardt moved to Leinster in 2009, and eventually made his Test debut for Ireland in 2012. The two have clashed at Test level twice before.

‘We obviously haven’t chatted about lineout calls or anything like that, but we have stayed in touch,’ said the Bok captain. ‘I have a lot of respect for Richardt as a rugby player and as a person.

’It will be good to see him. I’m very happy that he’s been included in the Ireland squad and I wish him the best.’

Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli