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Springbok coach preparing side for huge physical battle in deciding Test

Allister Coetzee has highlighted Ireland’s kicking game and strip-tackling as key areas for South Africa to address.

South Africa coach Allister Coetzee.
South Africa coach Allister Coetzee.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Rory Keane reports from Port Elizabeth 

SOUTH AFRICA HEAD coach Allister Coetzee is expecting a “battle of attrition” with Ireland in Saturday’s third-Test decider at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

The Springboks avenged their opening-day defeat in Cape Town against a 14-man Irish outfit with a 32-26 comeback victory at Ellis Park last Saturday.

Trailing 26-10 with 20 minutes remaining and staring at the prospect of a 2-0 series defeat, the Boks blew Ireland off the pitch with a 22-point blitz as replacement Warren Whiteley, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Damian de Allende crossed for tries.

Now, a fascinating finale awaits in Port Elizabeth in a winner-takes-all clash.

“Any Test match is going to be a battle of attrition and that is what we have to prepare ourselves for, it’s never an easy game,” said Coetzee.

“You don’t get easy Test matches so it’s got to be an approach whereby we have the patience within our plan and make sure that we have a good set-piece again and have patience within the kicking game.

We’ve seen the Irish have scored tries through some good kicks and we must make sure that we handle those kicks.

“Our aerial skills should improve this week and we must have the patience to make good decisions, when it’s on to have a go we’ll have a go but also to make sure that we have some good kicks in return to put pressure back on to them.”

Having flattered to deceive for the first 140 minutes of this three-Test saga, the Boks finally clicked into gear with a final-quarter mauling of Ireland brimming with power, accuracy and intensity.

Certainly, playing at altitude and the impact of the Lions players from the bench were key factors as Joe Schmidt’s side wilted in the thin air on the Highveld.

Several Irish players have spoken in recent days of their reduced line speed which allowed the powerful Springbok forwards to get over the gain line and when you start to soak tackles against these guys, a long day at the office is in store.

“That last 20 minutes for us was a bit of everything. It was really a complete, good display of all of the aspects of the game being put together,” said Coetzee.

“Rugby will always be a gain-line battle and once our ball carriers were nice and low, we got Damian De Allende … spectacular, look at his try; he just ran over the guy.

“Pieter-Steph’s [du Toit] try, it’s a matter of great body position, body height, no one could stop him.

“Even Ruan Combrinck’s try, if you look at the body height in contact. He ran over the guy. That is the message, it’s as simple as that.

“It’s a momentum-based game, it’s a gain-line game and that’s the battle that we have to win.”

South Africa Ireland Rugby Ruan Combrinck gets over in the corner. Source: Themba Hadebe

Despite his side’s slow start in Johannesburg, Coetzee, ominously for Ireland, saw plenty of positives from his side’s first-half display, despite running into the sheds 19-3 down amid a chorus of boos from the Ellis Park faithful.

“Maybe your perception and the scoreboard reflected wasn’t good but I’ve seen some great stuff in the first half, really some good play,” he explained. “Great attack, but we lost the ball in contact.

“There was a massive focus on guys being stripped where the ball gets ripped out which hampered our continuity but we put ourselves in positions where we could have scored in that first half.

It could have been much closer, we could have been in front in that first half.

“Although there was a perception that it was a poor first half — there was one particular passage of play where it was really poor and it was below standard — there were good things and the big thing for me is to ensure that our contact skills will be a big focus as well.”

The former Stormers coach also warned of Ireland’s excellent tackling and contact work, citing a number of occasions when Springboks attackers were stripped of the ball, a tactic that has become hugely prominent since Andy Farrell took up his role as defence coach on this tour.

Andy Farrell Andy Farrell has made an impact already. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We should hold on to the ball, remember Damian de Allende under the sticks running hard and he got stripped,” Coetzee explained.

“Siya Kolisi got stripped too so it’s just a matter of making sure that [we are aware] it is a tactic of the Irish. They make double tackles where one guy will go for the strip, you’ve got to be aware of that and be better at holding on to the ball.”

Sitting next to Coetzee during the South African press conference was the giant figure of Eben Etzebeth, who looked imposing even when sitting behind a table in his tracksuit.

Before congratulating his former Western Province team-mate Quinn Roux on winning his Ireland cap, Etzebeth praised the calming influence of his skipper Adriaan Strauss during last weekend’s frantic encounter.

South Africa Test Rugby Ireland Ireland out-half Paddy Jackson does his utmost to halt Eben Etzebeth. Source: Schalk van Zuydam

“I also think in the first half, we had a lot of unforced errors where we got to their line and knocked a few balls on,” he said.

“Things didn’t go our way and then in the second half, I think our captain out there was exceptional, especially at half time when he spoke and said ‘we just need to go out and stick to our game-plan and things will work out’, so yeah, in the last 20 minutes everything just started to click into place. Luckily we got the result.”

The 24-year-old has been one of the standout players in the series thus far with his explosive lineout work, aggressive clean-outs at the ruck and powerful ball carrying. And he is just one of the many threats Ireland must contain on Saturday.

“Now we can win the series this weekend. It’s 1-1 and it’s all to play for,” said the Stormers lock.

We’re really looking forward to this weekend and those last 20 minutes a few guys stuck their hands up.

“The leadership group, everything just worked out. Our coach was calm at half time, he gave us the right message and those last 20 minutes really meant a lot for us.

“Now we have a game on our hands this weekend to clinch the series.”

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