Preview: Ireland v South Africa

Fri, 10 Nov 2017 07:13

NOVEMBER INTERNATIONAL SEASON: Four days after this match, 39 votes will decide where the 2023 World Cup will take place.

South Africa won World Rugby's stamp of approval, much to Irish resentment.

It is devoutly to be hoped that no Irish acrimony will spill over into this match.

After all, not one of the 46 players has a say in the choice of 2023 venue.

Surely the Irish would not use resentment as team motivation. Surely not.

There is enough in the rugby between the two sides to make for an intense contest.

History this century tells you that. Before 2004 Ireland had beaten South Africa once and that was in 1965.

But this century, the teams have met 11 times and South Africa leads six-yo-five.

There is nothing in it, and just last year Ireland won in South Africa for the first time. This time the Irish are at home in Dublin's fair city on the longest used Test ground in the world.

That was not the only Irish victory of historic significance last year.

Six days over a year ago, Ireland beat New Zealand for the first time ever, destroying the aura of All Black invincibility. And that was on neutral ground - in Chicago and the winning score was 40-29, not skin-of-the-teeth stuff.

Can Ireland win this one? Certainly they can.

Can South Africa win this one? Certainly they can.

It should make for a great contest - two teams that will not easily yield.

For the Springboks 2017 has been a year of rehabilitation after last year's eight defeats.

They will want to continue their better performances this year.

Better? Yes, but not uniformly so as they suffered their worst defeat ever when New Zealand beat them 57-0.

But then Ireland's worst loss to the All Blacks is 0-60 in 2012.

Players to Watch

In fact all 46 will be worth watching in this match but we will pick out a few.

For Ireland: Conor Murray, the Irish scrumhalf, who may just be the best and most effective scrumhalf in the world. Box kicks are usually horrible, but not when he does it and Irish boots pound after the ball. He is the one scrumhalf outside of Australasia who can compete with Aaron Smith, Thomas Perenara and Will Genia. Clever Jonny Sexton, Ireland's flyhalf, can do it all - catching, passing, kicking for touch, for attack and for posts, and even tackling with security. New Zealander Bundee Aki is earning his first Irish cap, the 27-year-old former Chiefs player who joined Connacht in Ireland in 2014. You would want to see how he fares. In the pack, one would be interested in energetic Peter O'Mahony and powerful tighthead Tadhg Furlong. The name Tadhg in Gaelic means a poet, which may not be appropriate for a rugged prop.

For South Africa: Most of the well-known players are in the pack - where there are over three times as many caps as the backs have (338 to 101). But in that pack is Malcolm Marx, the hooker with the fewest caps in the pack (10) and the youngest at 23. But he may just be the most eye-catching as he certainly was against New Zealand at Newlands recently. Tighthead Coenraad Oosthuizen has more skills than most props. He is also a man with proven guts. In Perth against Australia he left the field with a broken bone in his arm but when Trevor Nyakane left the field injured, Oosthuizen went back on, broken arm and all. Probably the most versatile of the backs is five-times capped Dillyn Leyds. He is fast and has vision. But what chances will he get?

Head to Head: Both sides have stressed the importance of first-phase possession - scrums and line-outs. Interestingly it would seem that the tighthead props in each front row may have the easier jobs - Furlong against Tendai Mtawarira and Oosthuizen against Cian Healy. But the interesting contest there may well be between seasoned veteran, Rory Best, 35 years of age and capped 104 times, and rookie Marx, the cunning of the veteran versus the strength and exuberance of the youth. The best front row in South Africa at the moment is at Western Province. Their three are on the bench for this match and could play a big part later in the match. The Irish line-outs are, it seems, impeccable. It's Best throwing perfectly to tall (2,1 metres) Devin Toner, Iain Henderson and O'Mahony. Against them will be the improved, but still faulty at times, throwing of Marx to strong Eben Etzebeth, Lodewyk de Jager and Peter-Steph du Toit. Du Toit could just be a trump card. Then there are the two sets of rugged loose forwards - bashing Christiaan Stander, strong Sean O'Brien and relentless O'Mahony against experienced Francois Louw, eager Siyamthanda Kolisi and forceful Du Toit. That is a vital battle at the breakdown. Back three versus Back three. Apart from Rob Kearney who has played in 79 Tests, the other five are relative rookies - Jacob Stockdale with two tests and Andrew Conway with three on the Irish side while for South Africa's Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan and Leyds have a total of just 23 caps - nine, nine and five. But both sides are eager to attack and counterattack. Kicker: Jonny Sexton versus Elton Jantjies? Sexton has an edge, though if Jantjies brings his best form he will be one to reckon with.

Results this century:
 2016: South Africa won 19-13, Port Elizabeth
2016: South Africa won 32-26, Johannesburg
2016: Ireland won 26-20, Cape Town
2014: Ireland won 29-15, Dublin
2012: South Africa won 16-12, Dublin
2010: South Africa won 23-21, Dublin
2009: Ireland won 15-10, Dublin
2006: Ireland won 32-15, Dublin
2004: Ireland won 17-12, Dublin
2004: South Africa won 26-17, Cape Town
2004: South Africa won 31-17, Bloemfontein

Prediction: It could be a tense fight to the finish, desperately close with only two or three points separating the contestants. And it just may be that Ireland is the ones to have their arm lifted as the winner, come the final whistle.

Teams

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Christiaan Stander, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 James Ryan, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Darren Sweetnam.

South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Francois Louw, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siyamthanda  Kolisi, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3 Coenraad Oosthuizen, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Francois Venter.

Date: Saturday, November 11
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 17.30 (19.30 South African time; 17.30 GMT)
Expected weather: Overcast with a  high of 9°C and a low of 4°C. No rain is forecast, which is a surprise.
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Ian Davies (Wales)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)

By Paul Dobson
@rugby365com