VIDEO: 'Revenge' on Ireland's minds?
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Amidst the escalating public spat surrounding the 2023 World Cup bidding process, there looms a massive Test this week.
Many media outlets have suggested Ireland can make a big statement in Dublin on Saturday, when they host South Africa in the opening round of the year-end international season.
However, while officials in Ireland, South Africa and France continue to argue over the process ahead of next week's World Rugby council vote - to decide who hosts the event six years from now - the coaches have carefully sidestepped getting caught up in the ruckus.
In fact, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt suggested his team's year-end Tests, including this week's opener against South Africa, present's him with a chance to 'experiment' ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
Schmidt said "you'll see a few changes through the three Tests".
"So for us, a really positive year-end series is to continue from [the two-Test series win over] Japan a little bit," Schmidt told the Irish Times.
"We don't have too many windows.
"The next window is a massive pressure cooker for us. It's the Six Nations. It's the big competition of the year.
"If we want to get a window where we can still look to be as competitive as we can be but also grow the group a bit, this is our window, and that's part of our strategy behind some of those guys in the back three. It's part of the strategy in the second row and in the front row.
"In summary, it's just an opportunity in the middle of the pitch as well.
"There are some exciting new guys involved and we're excited about seeing how they go. If they go well I think that's a successful year-end series for us, because it's an investment for us, that we want an immediate return on but that we're prepared to also take a longer-term view with."
The Boks' 0-57 humiliating loss to New Zealand in Albany on September 16 is still used as the reference point for their season, but they have responded since with a 27-all draw away to Australia, before losing 24-25 to the All Blacks in a thrilling encounter in Cape Town last month.
Indeed, those defeats to the All Blacks have been their only losses in nine games this year.
"I thought South Africa was incredibly good against the All Blacks," said Schmidt.
"You take out Ryan Crotty's kick-ahead try and Rieko Ioane's intercept, I thought South Africa was incredibly good that day. And if that's where they've got to, and the evidence suggests it is, then they're going to be incredibly tough.
"I know they lost Jean-Luc du Preez.
"But the people they've got – Eben Etzebeth has grown as a leader in that group and is still incredibly young – their average age would be in the mid-20s and I think it is a team for the future that is right here, right now one of the best that any country could hope to have.
"For South Africa, we would love to be really competitive and get our noses in front, obviously."
Source: Irish Times