What the Irish newspapers are saying ahead of the Test at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
The big day has finally arrived. The streets leading to the Aviva Stadium may be wet following a spell of overnight rain, but the skies are expected to clear by kick-off this evening. Can Joe Schmidt’s Ireland force an upset that would catapult them up the IRB rankings ladder and put a dent in the southern hemisphere giant’s confidence?
According to the local papers, this is not likely to happen. The word ‘hope’ is being used across the board, but the players will need more than that when they meet a Springbok side that is mentally and physically prepared for the occasion.
Exhibit A is today’s edition of the Irish Times. In an article titled, ‘Ireland hope to feed off fear factor’, writer Gerry Thornley says that many of Schmidt’s men are in form but this Test looks beyond them.
‘Ireland are injury-hit and comparatively rusty. The fear in the air is palpable, but they are at home, and that must count for something’. While Thornley believes players like Paul O’Connell, Jonny Sexton, and Conor Murray will be key to Ireland’s slim chances, ‘a glance through the two benches and it’s hard not to see the Boks pulling through, albeit in a one-score game’.
‘Much more to the Springboks than “heads down, bums up, straight ahead” rugby,’ is the headline of Matt Williams’s analysis in the same paper. Williams writes: ‘A nation’s rugby team is at its most potent when it performs with the mindset that personifies the character of its people. Like Africa itself, the Boks now play with an unpredictable, raw power’.
Williams notes how Heyneke Meyer has added flair to the Boks’ game, and says it has been a masterstroke. He believes that for Ireland to win, they will need to be well ahead by the 60-minute mark ‘because South Africa has the most effective bench in the world. The odds are highly stacked against Ireland. If they should walk off the Aviva victorious, it should be rightly regarded as one of Ireland’s great victories against one of rugby’s true giants’.
‘O’Connell’s battle cry’ barks the headline on the back page of today’s Irish Independent. The Ireland captain says that securing at least one big southern hemisphere scalp would boost the team’s confidence a year out from the World Cup.
Inside the paper, there is more talk of the fear factor, as well as Ireland’s largely inexperienced and unprepared combination. It’s evident that the writers in this paper aren’t expecting an upset.
Says Tony Ward: ‘South Africa are the second favourites after New Zealand to win next year’s World Cup… the secret to their success may lie in out-half Handré Pollard. If he is the new spark at No 10, then Willie le Roux is the sorcerer further out. I love this guy’s fearless playing style. I hope I’m not scaremongering, but I do fear the worst if Le Roux and co hit their straps'.
George Hook writes: ‘We can’t afford a weak link with no sufficient reinforcements. The term horses for courses doesn’t apply if half the stable is off at the knacker’s yard [a reference to Ireland’s lengthy injury list]’. Hook is convinced the Boks will win. ‘Ireland’s cause, while not impossible, looks extremely bleak’.
‘You ready, Jack?’ asks the Irish Examiner on the front page of today’s sports section. A close-crop shot of loosehead prop Jack McGrath accompanies the secondary headline: ‘McGrath, Cronin, and Ross face front-row firestorm’. The paper obviously believes the less experienced Ireland pack have a lot to prove against more fancied opponents.
’Ireland can take the spring out of the Boks’ step’ is the title of Simon Lewis’s preview. Lewis relays the manner in which Schmidt has talked up the Boks and downplayed the significance of this clash. However, Lewis wonders if it’s a case of ‘head coaches talking up the opposition while privately steeling themselves and their players for the mother of all performances. It is hoped that Schmidt is not merely getting his excuses in early and that Ireland will hit the ground running against the Springboks this evening’.
‘In the Boks seat’ reads the headline of the back page of the Irish Daily Mail. The paper has run quotes from O’Connell, who insists that the new midfield of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne will be up to the task. However, inside this edition, analyst David Wallace begs to differ. Wallace writes that the new partnership has to gel or Ireland may well come unstuck, and that they may be lacking defensive cohesion. He too is expecting South Africa to win.
By Jon Cardinelli