What the Irish newspapers are saying ahead of the Test at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
One day remains before the big clash in the Irish capital, and the fact is well and truly reflected in Friday’s newspapers. Both the broadsheets and the tabloids have dedicated more space to the fixture, and as has been the case in the preceding four days, not many writers are predicting an Ireland win.
‘Meyer altering our perception of South Africa’ reads a headline in the Irish Examiner. The local pressmen have all marvelled at the Springboks’ new style of play, and have enjoyed the head coach, Heyneke Meyer, who wears his heart on his sleeve.
Brendan O’Brien writes: ‘For years they have demanded the respect of the rugby world, but if Heyneke Meyer continues on like this he will have achieved the impossible: to make the Boks loveable … Meyer has been “Mr Personality” in Dublin this week, his carefree attitude in public reflecting an attitude of a team that has drank pints and played golf. That’s a long way removed from Kamp Staaldraad. He hasn’t moved away from the traditional strengths of brute force and a booming kicking game. He has merely allied them with a more fluid running game that has made his side more dangerous and much easier to admire.’
In the same paper, former Ireland flyhalf Ronan O’Gara says there will be an uneasiness in Camp Ireland if they don’t win tomorrow. O’Gara writes that the kicking of the halfbacks will be especially important, and that overall it will be a case of 'the physicality of the Boks versus the rucking technique of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland'. O’Gara does feel that Ireland could have used the likes of Cian Healy and Rory Best (who are both out injured) for a game of this nature.
‘Daunting assignment beckons for Ireland’s new midfield combination’, barks the Irish Times. This has been a hot topic of debate throughout the week, and the shock selection of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne was confirmed on Thursday. In this article, Schmidt is quoted at length about the challenge the rookie centres will face. Writer Gerry Thornley notes: ‘This is going to seem strangely unfamiliar alright. For the first time in a home Test since Ireland beat Italy in 1999, neither Brian O’Driscoll nor Gordon D’Arcy will play a part.’
In the same paper, Liam Toland says that 'the Springbok midfield’s ability must be tested well behind the gainline'. Toland adds that Ireland’s defence could have a few tricks up their sleeve this Saturday. He does concede, however, that the Boks will be hard to contain, with flyhalf Handré Pollard a threat at the gainline and fullback Willie le Roux ‘the real danger man’.
Today, the Irish Independent has dedicated five of its sports pages to rugby, including the back page. ‘Schmidt lays down centre gauntlet,’ says the piece on the back page, while inside there is more on what a win would do for the Irish and how Schmidt will have prepared the hosts for the challenge.
Trevor Hogan says as much in a column titled ‘Schmidt’s clinical coaching approach gives Irish fighting chance’. Hogan suggests that Schmidt’s attention to detail will ‘be the secret weapon in the showdown that defines Ireland’s autumn series’.
‘A year in, Mr Rugby keeps building his own expectations’ says another article about Schmidt in today’s edition. Ruaidhri O’Connor talks about the highlights of Schmidt’s tenure, which include the narrow loss to the All Blacks in 2013 and the triumph in the Six Nations this year.
O’Connor writes that while Schmidt’s decision to select Henshaw and Payne is a surprise, perhaps the coach deserves the benefit of the doubt. ‘The New Zealander’s stock is so high it is simply a case of “In Joe we trust”. While there is a gloomy mood ahead of the Test against South Africa, O’Connor notes that 50,000 will still travel to the Aviva Stadium on Saturday with the hope that Ireland can win. O’Connor feels that Schmidt has ‘helped to deliver the hope back into Irish rugby’.
‘Roll the dice’ is the headline on the back page of today’s Irish Daily Mail. On all four pages dedicated to the match, the writers have played down expectations of an Ireland win. As is the case in the other daily newspapers, the pressmen have been both charmed and impressed by this Bok team.
Former Ireland hooker Keith Woods writes in The Herald that ‘Jonny Sexton, Paul O’Connell and Conor Murray must carry the team in Boks bash …. Because of the back of what we witnessed in the Rugby Championship [against the All Blacks], we are big underdogs.’
‘Boks primed to win’ reads another big headline in this paper. Des Berry is predicting a South African win, but feels Sexton may get one over Pollard in the battle of the flyhalves. ‘Sexton doesn’t require any extra motivation, but listening to and reading about the gifts Pollard has, the problems he presents for defences, it must be like a red flag to a bull. This is the perfect time for Sexton to remind the Aviva what Irish rugby is missing’.
By Jon Cardinelli