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Ireland v South Africa – Three Key Battles

Brian Barry previews the three key battles that could determine the outcome of today’s clash between Ireland and South Africa.


1. Paul O’Connell v Victor Matfield

Two of the best second rows ever, O’Connell and Matfield come to face to face in the twilight of their careers, but nonetheless as influential as ever. The two are similar as far as their line-out presence and overall leadership areĀ concerned. The 2007 World Cup winner retired from rugby in 2011, but has returned in search of a second World Cup crown. Ahead of his 118th cap, Matfield has praised O’Connell, describing the Limerick man as the best he has ever faced. But O’Connell will not care for the pre-match praise. O’Connell knows only how to do one thing, and that is how to do his job. Ireland have never lost a home game to the Springboks when Paul O’ConnellĀ has played. In fact, when O’Connell plays, Ireland’s line-out clicks, and he has been one of our deadliest weapons in recent years. O’Connell is best jumper, disrupter of opposition ball, and all-round best line-out general in world rugby. But if there is anybody who can knock the Munster colossus off his stride, it is Matfield.


2. Jonny Sexton v Handre Pollard

Pollard comes to Dublin having set the world alight throughout the Rugby Championship. The 20-year-old out-half is a deadly threat. Not only can the 2014 IRB Junior Player of the Year unlock a defence with his running and passing game, but he has a boot to match. He scored two tries in the Springboks’ defeat of New Zealand, and kicked a further nine points.

However, Handre now faces one of the finest 10s in world rugby at present in Sexton. The Racing Metro star is revered across both hemispheres, and is considered and all-round ten himself. Sexton is recovering from injury, but nonetheless will be the focus of the South African defence. If Sexton does not perform, Ireland do not perform. The Springboks back row of Marcel Coetzee, Teboho Mohoje, and Duane Vermeulen will target the Dubliner. However, Sexton is more than capable on his day of teaching Pollard a lesson.


3. Jack McGrath v Jannie du Plessis

While a titanic struggle will ensue on the other side of the scrum between Mike Ross and Tendai Mtawarira, whether McGrath can hold his own against Du Plessis will determine whether Ireland can live with the Springboks. With 60 caps to his name, Du Plessis is a 19 stone man mountain. Joining his brother Bismarck in the front-row, he will be relieved that Cian Healy will not be scrummaging against him. But Jack McGrath has been immense in Healy’s absence this season. The loosehead prop joins his two Leinster teammates in the front-row, but the South African front three are a different prospect to anything the trio have faced so far this year. If Ireland are to win on Saturday, the scrum will have to hold strong. McGrath needs to bring his Leinster form to the game in order to hold match Du Plessis. A strong scrum will be the platform for Conor Murray and Sexton to dictate the match.

Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.