Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
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Preview: New faces in both camps, but Ireland meeting old school Springboks
There’s no danger of paralysis by analysis in this one, Declan Kidney’s men face a side in transition and with half an eye on the World Cup.

SOUTH AFRICA WILL take the field at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin tomorrow on the back of a disappointing performance in the inaugural Castle Championship.

The competition saw the Springboks finish up level on points with Australia, but in third place.

Head coach Heyneke Meyer, like his opposite number, has had to cast his net a little wider for players on this tour.

Frans Steyn, Schalk Burger and Bismarck du Plessis headline the injury list, but Morne Steyn’s loss of form has ensured an air of uncertainty over the green and gold back-line.

Meyer, has promised to use this tour and it the climate provided as the perfect preparation for the 2015 World Cup, but that will not mean a repeat of the 2006 tour.

“You want to win every single test match.” The former Leicester Tigers coach said this week. “You don’t want to use test matches to build a team, lose games and say it’s going to benefit you in the end.

“Obviously you want to win every single test match and my goal is to integrate the younger players with the senior players because you can’t just throw them to the wolves.”

To that end he has handed Patrick Lambie the number 10 jersey with Steyn on the bench. The 22-year-old made his international debut at this venue in 2010 and scored what proved to be the winning points.

The men who will line up to the left and right of Lambie in attacking formation will be much more familiar to Irish eyes. Ruan Pienaar will give the ‘Boks an extra kicking option while former Munster centre Jean de Villers captains his county. Of course, South Africa can look forward to some friendly contempt themselves. Declan Kidney has awarded Leinster hooker Richardt Strauss with his first international cap, three years after arriving in Ireland from Pretoria.

Three further uncapped players could be sprung from the bench: props Dave Kilcoyne and New Zealander Michael Bent, and the explosive young Ulster blindside Iain Henderson. All of whom are involved with an Ireland squad for the first time.

A busy day

However, with the injuries sustained to back-line leaders Rob Kearney and Brian O’Driscoll, much of the focus was trained upon who Kidney would turn to in the back three positions. With the tumult of a squad ravaged by injury, Kidney has opted to keep the ship steady where possible. Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls are all picked in their preferred positions. That left the short straw of playing out of position for Simon Zebo, whose second Test outing brings the added responsibility of a fullback.

“It was a matter of getting players who are playing well.” Kidney said at Carton House yesterday. “If South Africa stick to their tradition, then they (the back three) are going to be busy.

The traditional game is something the Springboks do intend to remain true to under Meyer. Early this week replacement hooker Schalk Brits expressed his delight that his  home nation were no longer’trying to be anything they are not, instead entrusting their great hulking big forwards take the ball into and over the advantage line.

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With Tendai Mtawarira, Adriaan Strauss and Jannie du Plessis in the front row, South Africa will be only too happy to test Ireland’s resolve at scrum time. But their challenge will be the frequency of the set-piece, as Meyer admitted.

“In Super Rugby and even in the Castle Championship there’s less scrums. There are only about six, seven scrums on your ball. I won’t say it’s a quicker game , but there are less scrums. Playing these conditions, the northern hemisphere, every single scrum is a battle and a contest. – You scrum for penalties; you don’t just scrum as a starting point.”

Anchoring Ireland’s resistance up front will be the new captain, Jamie Heaslip. He began his duty by warning his troops of the ‘Boks kicking options – particularly Ruan Pienaar who has attempted shots from over 60 metres on this island.

“Playing against South Africa, you’re going up against a pretty confrontational side.” said the skipper, taking on the elephants in the room.

“You can’t make any mistakes from penalties, because they’ll punish you. They’re a side who can be quite clinical. It’s important we don’t give them kicks in our own half, and don’t give them territory.”

Collisions and territory. There are many fresh faces on both sides, but this promises to be an old-fashioned test match.

Dressed all in black, Ireland’s task is to show their 21st century form.

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