What the Irish newspapers are saying ahead of the Test at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
In the Irish Times, Gerry Thornley questions the wisdom of starting rookie centre Robbie Henshaw against the Springboks this Saturday. The Times has run some interesting comments by Ireland defence coach Les Kiss, who has talked up the improved South African attack.
‘They have added a couple of players that [sic] have been able to give them a more expansive nature to their game,’ said the world-renowned defence guru, who was referring to the rise of Boks like Willie le Roux and Handré Pollard.
‘By virtue of the fact that they will play from deep, and they will play one or two channels wider before they make options, it means you have to be more invested in that frontline of defence which opens up space. This then makes their strong kicking game even stronger if you’re not working hard at getting good grass cover.
'So you can imagine where my mind has been as a defence coach, just trying to work the right way to approach that and the systems we’re trying to put in place to ensure that we’ve got those elements covered.'
‘Lineout battle a fascinating game within a game’ reads the headline of another Times article that focuses on the looming contest between veteran locks Paul O’Connell and Victor Matfield. Former Ireland and Munster loose forward Alan Quinlan talks about the finer points of lineout play, and why O’Connell and Matfield are in a league of their own.
‘They’re the best in the world, I don’t think there’s any argument about that. They’re the best at running the operation, the best jumpers, and the best at disrupting the opposition. [The game this Saturday] will witness a game within a game, a real treat.’
More specifically of O’Connell, Quinlan writes: ‘He's always pushed the boundaries of what you can do with the lineout on attack and defence. It’s got to the point now where his analysis of a lineout is probably his greatest strength’. And of Matfield, Quinlan notes: 'Matfield has that natural athleticism that means he can go in reverse, bend back and catch a ball that has gone behind him. He can walk into a lineout and dominate it, call what the situation needs and execute.’
The Irish Independent has also dedicated space to the O’Connell versus Matfield match-up, with writer David Kelly marvelling at the longevity of the South African No 5. After chatting to Matfield at Tuesday’s press conference, Kelly writes that ‘Matfield’s sheer presence portrays an eminence that embraces both poise and power. Little wonder that following a two-year hiatus from a sport in which he competed supremely for more than a decade, he has been warmly embraced following his shock decision to re-emerge.’
Of Matfield’s actual tussle with O’Connell, Kelly suggests that the ‘aerial battle mixes a complex confection of sheer brawn and athleticism’.
Donal Lenihan of the Irish Examiner is equally enthused, not only by the prospect of this battle but of the Boks coming to Dublin and putting on a show.
‘Despite New Zealand’s undoubted status as the No 1-ranked side in the game, South Africa’s recent 27-25 win in Johannesburg showed they have the closed the gap and are on course to offer the biggest challenge to the All Blacks at next year’s World Cup.’
Lenihan says that in No 8 Duane Vermeulen, Matfield, lock Eben Etzebeth, wing Bryan Habana, and fullback Le Roux, the Boks possess players with star quality who will be worth the admission fee this Saturday. The writer also lauds the introduction of Pollard this season, and suggests that Ireland coach Joe Schmidt would be happier if the 'more predictable' Morné Steyn was picked to start for the Boks this weekend.
‘Crisis management’ exclaims the Irish Daily Mail. Ireland have already lost eight of the 23 players who featured in the Six Nations decider last March to injuries. The local scribes are hoping that several more of Schmidt’s men recover from niggles in time for the clash against South Africa this Saturday. Writer Liam Heagney goes on to investigate the cause of the injuries, interviewing experts such as Ireland fitness coach David Clarke.
The Mail has also run quotes from a Tuesday press conference with Kiss. The Ireland defence coach vows to take the game to the South Africans. He plays down the team’s injury situation, but stresses the importance of using all 23 players to secure victory this weekend.
‘You have to be well-resourced on the bench when you’re playing the big teams [like South Africa]. This is an opportunity to step up to the plate.’
By Jon Cardinelli