Ireland will be looking to make it a memorable first Test match at the Aviva Stadium by beating a depleted South Africa. They haven’t won a game since March, and need to get back to winning ways to keep their World Cup hopes alive.
The Springboks arrived in Dublin just two days before kick off with 13 stars missing due to injury, including captain John Smit, Ricky Januarie and Schalk Burger, but Ireland know that toppling the world champions will still be a tough ask.
Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal will be relishing the chance to take on his former team tomorrow. Boks stand-in captain Victor Matfield is partnered by Bakkies Botha in one of the world’s most potent second-row partnerships, but Ireland supporters will be hoping that Smal still knows how to unravel them. Additionally, a front row of Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis will provide a typically physical battle up front – a perfect platform for Tony Buckley, picked ahead of John Hayes, to prove himself.
Elsewhere, Luke Fitzgerald makes his first Test start in 12 months on the wing, but the home team are without Paul O’Connell, and scrum-half Tomás O’Leary. This will be a big challenge for Eoin Reddan, who steps in at 9, and I think the hosts will miss the physicality of O’Leary tomorrow.
Jonny Sexton deserves his starting position over Ronan O’Gara, and if he can repeat what he’s been doing for Leinster and keep the score ticking over and then Kidney will be delighted.
For South Africa Patrick Lambie, Man of the Match in last weekend’s Currie Cup final for the Sharks, has earned a place on the bench, and Ruan Pienaar is starting in his preferred position of scrum-half, just to add the pressure on Reddan.
Neither team has had a great few months, with Ireland’s recent poor form and the Springboks coming last in this year’s Tri-Nations, and both sides will be looking for a big performance in Dublin.
But I’m picking Ireland to beat the world champions tomorrow – South Africa have lost on their last three visits to the Irish capital and it’s not looking like they’re going to rectify this tomorrow.
But what do you think? Who will win? Is this South Africa team strong enough to topple Ireland?
Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, B O’Driscoll (capt), G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Best, T Buckley; D O’Callaghan, M O’Driscoll; S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip.
Replacements: S Cronin, T Court, D Ryan, D Leamy, P Stringer, R O’Gara, K Earls or A Trimble or P Wallace.
South Africa: G Aplon; B Basson, Z Kirchner, J de Villiers, B Habana; M Steyn, R Pienaar; T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis, B Botha, V Matfield, D Stegmann, J Smith, P Spies.
Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, CJ van der Linde, Flip van der Merwe, K Daniel, F Hougaard, A Jacobs, P Lambie