Ireland want grandstand finish

Andrew Trimble says Ireland are determined to cap a long and trying season with a historic series win in South Africa. JON CARDINELLI reports from Port Elizabeth.

There’s been no respite for the northern hemisphere Test teams. They began their pre-season preparations in mid-2015, with a view to the World Cup. They went back to their clubs after the global tournament, before rejoining their respective national sides ahead of the Six Nations.

Not long after that, teams like England and Ireland departed for testing tours to the southern hemisphere. Unsurprisingly, Ireland did so without a host of star players that had fallen victim to injuries.

Somehow, the plucky Irish found the energy to beat the Springboks with 14 men in the first Test at Newlands. Ireland were in control for 60 minutes in the second Test of the series at Ellis Park, until fatigue took its toll in the dying stages.

One of the biggest questions ahead of the third and decisive Test of the series is this: Do Ireland have any petrol left in their admittedly sizeable tank? Another question is whether they remain motivated to go where no individual home nation side has gone before.

Ireland made history two weeks ago when they beat the Boks for the first time in South Africa. Perhaps another great feat – a second win, and thus a first series victory in South Africa – is too much to ask of this tiring team.

Trimble, one of Ireland’s senior players, said that the tourists are determined to end this tour and season on a high. It would mark an incredible turnaround given Ireland’s quarter-final exit at the 2015 World Cup and their third-place finish in the recent Six Nations.

‘We are still hurting after that loss at Ellis Park. But it’s important to maintain some perspective. We still have an opportunity to create history with a series win,’ Trimble said on Tuesday.

‘We played well in that first game, and for most of that second game. Perhaps what that latter Test reaffirmed is how hard it is to win here in the southern hemisphere. And it was probably a taste of things to come this week, because the Boks will be even stronger.

‘I wouldn’t say we have exceeded expectations on this tour,’ the Ireland winger continued. ‘We are an ambitious team. We have always said that we want to be a side that can come to the southern hemisphere and win Test matches. We did that at Newlands.

‘What we also spoke about is being a team that backs up one good performance with another. Unfortunately we didn’t do that [at Ellis Park]. We let a big chance slip. So we will be determined to put things right this Saturday.’

Ireland are looking to strike the right balance in the lead-up to their season finale. They will enjoy some time off on Wednesday. Coach Joe Schmidt has instructed the players to forget about rugby completely.

For Devin Toner, who is getting married in Ireland next week, it will provide some respite.

‘I’ve been getting a lot of texts and calls this past week,’ the big lock said on Tuesday. ‘Of course it’s on my mind, but when it’s time to think about rugby, I will remain focused on that.

‘That’s what Joe has made clear to us this week. It’s been a long season. We’re also determined to finish the season on a high. We have to keep our heads, though, and not let the emotion of the occasion get to us. We still have a job to do.’

Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP Photo

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Jon Cardinelli