Ireland head down to South Africa in June for a three-test series with a genuine chance of earning a first ever series win in one of rugby’s toughest tours.
Here Hefin Jones looks at five reasons why Ireland can stun the Boks this Summer.
1. South Africa’s Lack Of Preparation Time
New coach Allister Coetzee will only have ten weeks to prepare for the opening test on June 11th in Cape Town. To complicate matters further he will not meet up with his new players until the end of the month, when he’ll assemble his first training squad. So, effectively, he’ll have a month to bond with his players, settle on combinations and work on the game plan.
While Ireland, with the exception of some newbies such as CJ Stander, Stuart McCloskey, Josh van de Flier and Ultan Dillane and veterans Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald and Peter O’Mahony, comprise the same squad that won consecutive Six Nations titles in 2014 and 2015.
The settled nature of Joe Schmidt’s squad and the fact that they have just spent six weeks together in camp gives them a definite advantage in this respect. And in the likes of Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip they have players who have won a test match in South Africa.
2. The Return Of Key Men
The return of the talismanic Séan O’Brien and Iain Henderson from injury is a huge boost for Schmidt, and both will have key roles to play down south, in an environment where Ireland have never won.
Against the world’s most physical pack big ball carriers are essential, so O’Brien and Henderson will give Ireland real ballast and power up front.
O’Brien’s ferocious tackling and sheer physicality allied to Henderson’s lineout prowess and grunt in the scrum will also be key for Ireland in what promises to be a battle royale up front between two quality packs.
3. South Africa Will Be Undercooked
The first test in Cape Town will be Coetzee’s men’s first game since the 30th of October, when they defeated Argentina in the Rugby World Cup third-fourth place play-off.
Nearly eight months without having played together and with no warm-up games planned, it means that they will come into the series undercooked, which makes the opening test in Cape Town all the more important.
Win the first test and Ireland will put themselves in a really good position, but lose and they’ll face a daunting trip up to the altitude of Johannesburg. Ireland have to take advantage of their host’s rustiness and hit the ground running.
4. The Springboks Are In Transition
With the International retirements of their last two skippers, Jean De Villiers and Victor Matfield, and fellow legends Fourie du Preez and Schalk Burger, the Boks have lost a ton of quality and experience. Despite the depth of talent they possess, especially at lock and in the backrow, they are still big losses which in turn is a boost to Ireland’s chances.
To boot (pardon the pun), they are without their hugely talented 10, Handre Pollard, who is out for the season with ruptured knee ligaments. Record try scorer Bryan Habana is also ruled out of the upcoming tests, having signed a contract with his club Toulon which allows him to play international sevens this year but doesn’t allow him to be released for the summer tests.
5. South Africa’s Style Of Play
The Springboks’ structured game plan will suit Ireland. They will know what’s coming: driving lineouts, rolling mauls, with plenty of big, powerful ball carriers such as Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager and Duane Vermulen looking to smash their way over the gainline and a very effective kick-chase game. With such limited preparation time, Coetzee will have to keep things simple and utilise his team’s traditional strengths.
With a tough, physical pack with plenty of big ball carriers, Ireland can deal with the Boks’ physical approach up front and cause them some problems themselves. By matching them up front they can lay a foundation for Jonathan Sexton to put them into the right places, from where they can launch their big ball carriers such as O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip, and Robbie Henshaw at the Bok defence.
After they’ve freed up some space, Sexton can look to bring in dangerous runners such as Jared Payne, Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Andrew Trimble to really test the Springboks’ defence.
It’s going to be phenomenally difficult for Ireland. South Africa on home soil are always an extremely tough proposition and possess an excellent pack and a very good backline.
But Ireland are blessed with a good record against the hosts, having won their last two games against them (albeit in Ireland) and have the game plan, players and experience to make history.
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena
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Read More About: Allister Coetzee, Duane Vermeulen, Eben Etzebeth, iain henderson, international rugby, ireland international rugby, ireland rugby, irish rugby, irish rugby news, Joe Schmidt, Lood de Jager, rugby news, sean o'brien, South Africa vs Ireland 2016, Top Story