Will Ir­ish test give an­swers?

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - JAC­QUES WESTHUYZEN

SOUTH Africa have en­joyed a mar­vel­lous year on the rugby fields of the south­ern hemi­sphere, winning home and away, and in the process bag­ging all the tro­phies on of­fer.

They beat the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions, Aus­tralia and New Zealand and went to be­come No 1 in the world. They have re­gained the re­spect of their op­po­nents and been la­belled the best side on the planet.

But in the last three weeks of this Novem­ber tour of Europe, the Spring­boks have failed to re­pro­duce the form which saw them con­quer all be­fore them in the mid­dle of the year. They are tired af­ter a de­mand­ing sea­son and in­juries have hit the side hard.

But they need to get up one more time at Croke Park to­day to shut up crit­ics who are sug­gest they re a side in de­cline.

Ire­land will op­pose them to­day – a show­down be­tween the cham­pi­ons of the hemi­spheres, a con­test that has been billed a “mini World Cup”.

For the Boks though, the goals writ­ten down at the start of the sea­son have been achieved. A de­feat to­day will be no train smash, though victory will be so sweet: to fin­ish the year on a high and put the re­cent fail­ures be­hind them.

What coach Peter de Vil­liers will be hop­ing to get out of to­day, more than any­thing, are an­swers. It is sur­pris­ing that af­ter a sea­son such as the one the Boks have had, ques­tions still per­sist about the Boks.

If De Vil­liers got an­swers on two fronts ear­lier in the sea­son – that Morné Steyn is the right man to play at fly­half and that Hein­rich Brus­sow is a must in the side – then he is seek­ing more an­swers to­day.

Af­ter to­day’s match De Vil­liers will hope­fully have an­swers to, among oth­ers, the fol­low­ing: Is BJ Botha the man to wear the No 3 jer­sey? Is Danie Ros­souw go­ing to be the back-up No 8 in 2010, and is Wy­nand Olivier the an­swer at in­side cen­tre?

The Boks tur ned it on against Italy last week but the real test will come to­day.

The scrum­ming has been a prob­lem through­out the tour, but with John Smit back at hooker and a real spe­cial­ist at tight­head, per­haps, fi­nally, the Boks will come good.

In a re­jigged back row, Ros­souw has an op­por­tu­nity to ce­ment his place as backup to Pierre Spies and edge out Ryan Kankowski who has sim­ply not grabbed the op­por­tu­nity af­forded him here. Also, Schalk Burger needs to find the spark that made him such a spe­cial player a year or two ago.

The Boks have, as al­ways, sin­gled out Brian O’Driscoll as the ma­jor threat in the Ire­land team, but in Olivier and Jaque Fourie, the vis­i­tors look a solid de­fen­sive out­fit. It is not far­fetched to sug­gest that if O’Driscoll is kept quiet, Ire­land will be, too.To­day’s is a big ask for the Boks, some­thing Smit knows all too well.

“It’s go­ing to be an epic,” said the Bok skip­per.

De Vil­liers will be hop­ing his men can find the strength – men­tally and phys­i­cally – one last time to en­sure the sea­son ends with a smile, a cheer and a high-five.

He’ll want to leave Dublin not ques­tion­ing selections, a long sea­son and play­ers’ abil­i­ties, but a man with an­swers; a sat­is­fied man.

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