International Rugby, Opinions

Favourites Ireland cautious of physical, improving Springboks

SA ineligibility, inexperience and rebuilding issues

South Africa’s 34-man squad for the Autumn Tour contains 15 backs, ten of which have ten caps or less. Five out of those ten have between zero and three caps. Out of the starting side in the 57-0 defeat by New Zealand, eight of the starting 15 had played less than ten tests.

South Africa are rebuilding and continuing to struggle with retention talent, when often players move abroad to gain experience in other leagues. Three players on the current squad, namely Elton Jantjies, Francois Louw, and Franco Mostert, won’t be considered for the match against Wales in December as it falls outside of the international window.

Ireland themselves are welcoming a host of new faces into the squad, with four uncapped backline players likely to get a runout at The Aviva Stadium on Saturday. One of those players is Bundee Aki. On centre Aki, Earls has said “He’s on the computers. He’s doing everything he can to get up to speed.” Ex-Chiefs player Aki, born in New Zealand, is expected to make his full debut on Saturday and Earls is relishing the prospect. “He’s been brilliant since he’s come over to Ireland with Connacht. He’s a great player; you get 100% off him every time. He’s physical, he’s quick and he can ball-play as well. Hopefully we get a chance in the future to link up.”

That linkup might happen on Saturday and Aki’s selection could be with the Bok physicality in mind. In The Irish Times, Ireland legend Gordon D’Arcy backs Ireland to win and Bundee Aki to be a central figure.

Ireland wary of improving, physical Boks

The Springboks lost all three autumn tests this time last year but Keith Earls isn’t taking anything for granted on the brink of another meeting. “Win or lose we’ll be battered by physical Springboks.” Earls said in the Irish Times. The 30-year-old has pointed to a recent upsurge in form showed by The Boks, and has noted their improvement since a diabolical Autumn tour the last year when they lost all three matches against Wales, England and Italy.

“The physicality is the usual with them. We played against them three times in 2016, so we know what to expect. And they are on the up. They had some good performances in the Rugby Championship. I know New Zealand beat them well but that happens to a lot of us.”

Allister Coetzee dubs Ireland the “New Zealand of Europe.”

The Bok coach has hailed half-back pairing Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton as ‘world-class’ ahead of the clash on Saturday in Dublin. Their combination has led Coetzee to compare Ireland’s quality to that of New Zealand, saying that any side would be lucky to have players of that calibre forming their spine.

Coetzee has isolated the line speed of Ireland’s half-back pairing as an area of particular attention for the Boks, citing it as the major factor which caused such damage to The All Blacks in November last year in Chicago. Ireland won that encounter 40-29.

Moving on to this Saturday’s fixture and the Autumn tour as a whole, Coetzee was quoted in the Irish Independent as saying “It’s an important autumn series for us, the Test we played last against New Zealand, that’s the standard basically. For us it’s important because we have a huge respect for Ireland, they are a quality side and it’s almost close to your All Blacks side in Europe.”

Ireland and South Africa have five wins apiece in the last ten meetings between the sides. More team news and quotes from both camps later in the week ahead of Saturday’s clash in Dublin.

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