Mur­rayandSex­ton­need­top­ull stringstosteer­re­jigged­side­home

Dis­ci­pline key as Ire­land face match-hard­ened Spring­boks

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - RUGBY AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS - Gerry Thorn­ley Rugby cor­re­spon­dent Ire­land v South Africa

This should be in­ter­est­ing. To the back­drop of a feisty off-field bat­tle for the 2023 World Cup, with fourth place in the world rank­ings at stake and mind­ful that they could meet in the World Cup quar­ter-fi­nals less than two years hence, as friendlies go this doesn’t look too friendly.

A tad un­set­tlingly too, Ire­land are favourites de­spite a few un­knowns. Yes, they are a high-achiev­ing team with a par­tic­u­larly strong home record, and a ca­pac­ity Aviva at the ideal tea-time kick-off should be in ex­pec­tant mood.

But they’ve been in rel­a­tive cold stor­age since March, and while they have fa­mil­iar and proven com­bi­na­tions up front and at half­back, the same could even be said of the reprised Con­nacht mid­field pair­ing of Bundee Aki and Rob­bie Hen­shaw.

In ad­di­tion to Aki mak­ing his de­but, Ja­cob Stock­dale and An­drew Con­way are rel­a­tive new­com­ers, and the pres­ence of Joey Car­berry and Dar­ren Sweet­nam adds to the cal­low­ness of the backs.

What to make of South Africa? Not only are they com­par­a­tively match-hard­ened com­pared to their an­nus hor­ri­bilis of 2016 when they lost eight of 12 matches, in nine matches this year they have lost only twice and both times to the All Blacks.

Ad­mit­tedly, one of those was a record 57-0 thrash­ing in Al­bany, and aside from beat­ing an un­der-strength and weary French side at the end of their sea­son 3-0, the Spring­boks beat Ar­gentina twice and drew with Aus­tralia.

One can take the view that it showed re­mark­able re­silience to re­bound from that All Blacks maul­ing by draw­ing with Aus­tralia and then los­ing 25-24 to New Zealand in Cape Town a month ago or that the All Blacks had al­ready won the Rugby Cham­pi­onship, were miss­ing Brodie Re­tal­lick and a few more, and lost Beau­den Bar­rett.

Re­silient per­for­mance

Still, it was a com­mend­ably re­silient per­for­mance, with the Boks’ de­fence keep­ing them in the game.

They lorded pos­ses­sion and ter­ri­tory, re­stored their line-out to full ef­fec­tive­ness with the in­clu­sion of Pi­eter-Steph du Toit, nom­i­nally a lock, in the back­row, where he is re­tained to­day.

Their back play is lim­ited but they also tem­pered their more am­bi­tious wide game by re­sort­ing much more to type, ie hard and straight run­ning, match­ing this with their fe­roc­ity across the gain line and at the break­down. We can ex­pect more of Venue: Aviva Sta­dium Kick-off: Satur­day, 5.30pm On TV: RTÉ2, Sky Sports Main (Le­in­ster) Rob Kear­ney (Mun­ster) An­drew Con­way (Le­in­ster) Rob­bie Hen­shaw (Connnacht) Bundee Aki (Ul­ster) Ja­cob Stock­dale (Le­in­ster) Jonathan Sex­ton (Mun­ster) Conor Mur­ray (Le­in­ster) Cian Healy (Ul­ster, capt) Rory Best (Le­in­ster) Tadgh Fur­long (Ul­ster) Iain Hen­der­son (Le­in­ster) Devin Toner (Mun­ster) Pe­ter O’Ma­hony (Le­in­ster) Seán O’Brien (Mun­ster) CJ Stander 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 An­dries Coet­zee, Dil­lyn Leyds Jesse Kriel (Lions) (Storm­ers) (Bulls) Court­nall Skosan (Lions) El­ton Jan­tjies (Lions) Ross Cronje (Lions) Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks) Mal­colm Marx (Lions) Coe­nie Oosthuize (Sharks) Lood de Jager (Bulls) Siya Kolisi (Storm­ers) Fran­cois Louw (Bath) Ref­eree: Ben O’Ke­effe (New Zealand) As­sis­tant ref­er­ees: Wayne Barnes (Eng­land), Ian Davies (Wales), TMO: Rowan Kitt (Eng­land) the same to­day, and they do off­load more than when these sides met in June of last year.

Back­ing up a strong pack is a strong bench, par­tic­u­larly in the fron­trow, and they are clearly a stronger side than in last year’s three Test se­ries, which they won 2-1 af­ter three six-point games.

Their im­prove­ment is most ob­vi­ous at hooker, where the emer­gence of the hu­man dy­namo, 23-year-old Mal­colm Marx, has prompted his pre­de­ces­sor Adri­aan Strauss to de­scribe him as “world, world, world-class”.

It’s not just a blink­ered Boks’ view ei­ther. Aside from the tra­di­tional power and bal­last one ex­pects of a beefy Boks hooker, he has all the skills one would ex­pect of a one-time flanker and cen­tre.

In that re­cent meet­ing with the All Blacks, Marx not only com­pleted the 80 min­utes, but was scor­ing a try in the 79th minute with his 14 carry, from which he made 65 me­tres, to aug­ment three clean line breaks, in­clud­ing a try-scor­ing pass, beat three de­fend­ers, off­loaded twice, won four turnovers (he’s a quasi open­side over the ball) and made 12 tack­les.

So he must have dodgy darts? Nope, and that day he nailed 13 of 14 li­ne­outs.

Rory Best will have his work cut out, and knows it.

“He seems to be the to­tal pack­age. He can carry, he can throw, the South African scrum is very strong, which he’s a part of,” says Best. “I think he’s a real ex­am­ple of how the mod­ern day hooker is chang­ing and I think he started off his ca­reer play­ing in the backs, in the cen­tre some­where, and you can see that in the way he plays.

“And that’s what’s ex­pected now of the mod­ern hooker. It’s prob­a­bly not a bad thing that I’m 35 and not 15 or 16,” said Best, typ­i­cally self-dep­re­cat­ingly.

Best and Ire­land are go­ing to have to be smart to punch above their weight against a much more match-hard­ened unit, who have ef­fec­tively been to­gether for four months. They’ll have to be dis­ci­plined too. An­other rel­a­tively un­known in this game is the ap­point­ment of the highly re­garded 28-year-old New Zealan­der Ben O’Ke­effe, who is a doc­tor.

Play smart

But un­der Joe Sch­midt, they have re­peat­edly shown an abil­ity to play smart, to be well pre­pared even in the first game of a new win­dow – they beat the All Blacks in Chicago with less prepa­ra­tion than they had for this one.

Sch­midt has still as­sem­bled an in-form col­lec­tion of for­wards fea­tur­ing seven Lions, and we can rea­son­ably an­tic­i­pate Sean O’Brien, on his 50th Ir­ish Test, scal­ing his form of the Lions’ Test se­ries.

Pe­ter O’Ma­hony sup­ports Rhys Rud­dock at a li­ne­out prac­tice dur­ing the cap­tain’s run at the Aviva Sta­dium yes­ter­day.

In the pre­sump­tion that Ire­land can cope with South Africa’s power game, they look to have the bet­ter ae­rial game and most of all, Ire­land have a more proven and com­plete half­back pair­ing.

Conor Mur­ray rarely puts a foot wrong nowa­days, in­vari­ably mak­ing the cor­rect de­ci­sion and ex­e­cut­ing it, while caus­ing real dam­age with his kick­ing game and se­lec­tive run­ning game. His chal­lenge now is al­most to have the per­fect game.

Ditto Johnny Sex­ton, and it’s the ca­pac­ity of the Ir­ish half­backs to make the cor­rect call and ex­e­cute, es­pe­cially at crit­i­cal junc­tures, which can steer this some­what re­jigged Ir­ish team home. All the more so if Aki chips in with a game-break­ing play or two, with Hen­shaw per­haps the prime ben­e­fi­ciary. wins.1draw.SouthAfrica18wins.

Africa­won 19-13in­PortEl­iz­a­beth;2016:South Africa­won 32-26in­Jo­han­nes­burg;2016:Ire­land won 26-20in­CapeTown;2014:Ire­land won29-15in Dublin;2012:South Africa­won16-12in­Dublin.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.