Hos­til­ity spices up clash with Ire­land

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - SPORT -

THE in­creas­ingly frac­tious at­mos­phere be­tween the Ire­land and South Africa bid teams for the right to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup adds an ex­tra edge to their test match in Dublin to­day.

Ire­land head coach Joe Sch­midt will hope his play­ers lay into their Spring­boks op­po­nents as ro­bustly as the Ir­ish Rugby Foot­ball Union’s CEO Philip Browne did in a let­ter this week to his World Rugby coun­ter­part Brett Gosper about South Africa’s top­ping the tech­ni­cal review that puts them in pole po­si­tion to carry the day in the vote next Wed­nes­day.

Sch­midt, though, says he is not go­ing to tell the play­ers of the sig­nif­i­cance of beat­ing the South Africans on the pitch with re­gards to the vote al­though he ap­peared to rel­ish the thought of land­ing a blow days ahead of the vote.

“I hadn’t thought about it and I don’t want to put any more pres­sure on us” said the New Zealan­der.

“Gee, though, wouldn’t it be great to put a re­ally good per­for­mance in and put Ir­ish rugby in the shop win­dow ahead of the vote?”

Sch­midt, who has guided Ire­land to two Six Na­tions ti­tles and an his­toric win over New Zealand last year in Chicago in the four years he has been at the helm, has had to field ques­tion marks over in­clud­ing New Zealand-born cen­tre Bundee Aki in the start­ing XV a month af­ter he be­came eli­gi­ble un­der res­i­dency rules.

How­ever, 52-year-old Sch­midt is un­abashed about his de­ci­sion to do so in a se­lec­tion that sees Aki link up again with for­mer Con­nacht team­mate Rob­bie Hen­shaw.

“Some­times where you are born is less rel­e­vant than where you have in­vested over re­cent years and Bundee has done that in the west for Con­nacht,” said Sch­midt.

“He has played an im­mense amount of rugby for them. I feel sorry for Bundee and hope he isn’t dis­tracted by that.”

Sch­midt will hope Aki, who has ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing the best in the south­ern Hemi­sphere hav­ing won the 2013 Su­per Rugby ti­tle with the Chiefs, is fully-fo­cused as the coach knows a re­peat of the Spring­boks’ per­for­mance in the 25-24 de­feat by the All Blacks last month would pro­vide the Ir­ish with a stern test.

His South Africa coun­ter­part Al­lis­ter Coet­zee though has paid the Ir­ish the ul­ti­mate com­pli­ment in where he places them in terms of north­ern Hemi­sphere rugby.

“For us [the match] is im­por­tant be­cause we have a huge re­spect for Ire­land,” said Coet­zee.

“They are a qual­ity side, and it’s al­most close to your All Blacks side in Europe.”

Coet­zee, who has made three changes to the start­ing XV that be­gan the game against the All Blacks, is es­pe­cially fear­ful of the out­stand­ing half­back part­ner­ship of fly­half Johnny Sex­ton and scrumhalf Conor Mur­ray.

“The Ir­ish have a world-class half­back pair and their set-piece play is ex­tremely good, so it will be a great bat­tle,” said Coet­zee, who has man­aged to get the Spring­boks back to a bet­ter level than the one that limped round Europe last au­tumn.

“They know how to keep the ball and use a good kick­ing game to put teams un­der pres­sure.”

Coet­zee be­lieves his side will ac­quit them­selves much bet­ter this au­tumn as one ma­jor fac­tor has im­proved. “I was wor­ried about our con­di­tion­ing but this time around I don’t have that sort of fear at all.” – AFP

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