By Owain Jones, Editor, Rugby World
JAMIE HEASLIP will lead Ireland out against the Springboks for the first time, promising to ‘give the Irish people something to cheer about’. The big Leinsterman added for good measure. “We don’t like losing in our back garden. It will be a full house on Saturday and the place will be rocking.”
This rabble-rousing rhetoric is to be expected, but while the form book says Ireland should be approaching the game with confidence, after victories in three out of four of last outings against the Springboks, the mood in Ireland is one of apprehension. This is in most part due to the nature of their last Test in which they were demolished 60-0 by World Champions New Zealand.
With Declan Kidney entering the last year of his contract, mumblings on discontent can be heard after an inconsistent run of form over the last 12 months. The 2009 Grand Slam seems a distant memory and Irish fans have been heard to joke that they don’t know Ireland side is going to turn up; the side that can overturn Australia 15-6 during a World Cup, or the brow-beaten unit that capitulated to England, in March. What makes it more unsettling for Kidney is the backdrop of success at provincial level, where Ulster have never been stronger and Leinster have been roundly hailed as one of the world’s best teams after winning consecutive Heineken Cups. As for South Africa, after an underwhelming Rugby Championship, Heyneke Meyer will also be under scrutiny from a demanding rugby public in the rainbow nation. There’s no lack of motivation for both sides.
One of the most startling facts about the line-ups is the names not on the team sheets. For Ireland, the injury list makes for sorry reading. Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Sean O’Brien, Rory Best, Stephen Ferris and Paul O’Connell are all missing from the fray, as they fight their way back from their respective injuries. This had forced the normally conservative Kidney to gamble, it remains to be seen whether the likes of Simon Zebo can step up as a full-back. South Africa for their part have an even longer injury list with superstars Bryan Habana, Bismarck du Plessis and Schalk Burger all recuperating and watching from afar.
Pleased to meet you
One match-up no-one would have foresaw was that at hooker, where Rory Best’s absence has seen Leinster hooker Richardt Strauss thrust into action against Adriaan Strauss. The surname isn’t just a coincidence, it’s his cousin. The residency rule is stirring up increasing debate all over the home nations and that particular match-up will only fuel the critics. That Michael Bent, the New Zealand-born backrow has also been parachuted into the Irish 23, only a fortnight after landing in Ireland, has left the likes of Keith Wood, so vocal on Five Live last night, far from impressed with the current system.
Bring in the new
With so much upheaval, it’s no surprise that youngsters will be to the fore in both sides. Ulster fans have been banging the drum about Chris Henry for a while now and he gets a chance at openside, while Mike McCarthy will find out pretty soon if he can step into the giant boots of Paul O’Connell. The Springboks will be trying out some combinations of their own, with outside-centre Jaco Taute highly accompanying the battle-hardened Jean de Villiers. Up front, England found out to their cost, about the strength of Willem Alberts and 21-year-old Eben Etzebeth in the loose, so their tacklers will need to pull them down early to stop the home defence being overrun.
Verdict: With both sides shorn of such star names, this game will be extremely too close to. I expect Irish pride and the fervent green masses to carry Ireland home by two points.
IRELAND V SOUTH AFRICA, Saturday 10 November, 5.30pm, Aviva Stadium, Live on BBC2
Ireland : Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Mike McCarthy, Donnacha Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Chris Henry, Jamie Heaslip (captain).
Replacements: Sean Cronin, David Kilcoyne, Michael Bent, Donncha O’Callaghan, Iain Henderson, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O’Gara, Fergus McFadden.
South Africa : Zane Kirchner, JP Pietersen, Jaco Taute, Jean de Villiers, Francois Hougaard, Pat Lambie, Ruan Pienaar; Tendai Mtawarira, Adriaan Strauss, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Juandre Kruger, Francois Louw, Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen