Will Irish test give answers?
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.