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'We overestimate potential quality of southern hemisphere opposition and do ourselves down a bit'

Shane Horgan doesn’t want Ireland to be bogged down about the size of the ‘Boks or Ireland’s injury absentees.

Shane Horgan gets in front of Bakkies Botha at home to the 'Boks in 2004.
Shane Horgan gets in front of Bakkies Botha at home to the 'Boks in 2004.
Image: INPHO

SHANE HORGAN ISN’T demanding victory when Ireland face South Africa over the next three weekends, but he does hope to see Joe Schmidt’s side demonstrate an ability to adapt and threaten even with injuries to key men.

With Jonathan Sexton, Tommy Bowe, Josh van der Flier, Simon Zebo, Peter O’Mahony, Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien, Rob and Dave Kearney missing the tour through injury, Ireland are sure to need some less familiar internationals over the course of the three Tests.

“People are looking at Ireland, saying there’s a lot of players out, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a decent side,” Horgan said as he geared up for his punditry duties on Sky Sports this Saturday.

“We overestimate the potential quality of southern hemisphere opposition and do ourselves down a bit.”

Even the traditional assertion that the ‘Boks will be too big and powerful to handle is there to be challenged this time around. The important thing for Ireland, though, is that Schmidt does not simply try to continue using old methods with new faces.

Paddy Jackson is not suited to running plays the way Sexton does, Jack McGrath doesn’t have the 10 metre burst of Healy and whoever pulls on the number seven jersey will struggle to combine everything that makes The Tullow Tank.

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“They’re quite unique athletes,” Horgan says.

“Sean plays seven differently than anyone else plays seven. You’re not looking for a like-for-like swap there.  You can’t have a rigid gameplan based around players — with replacements asked to do things they can’t do.”

“They’re not the biggest South African team of all time. We can’t always say: ‘these South Africans are going to be so much bigger than the Irish’. All our guys that are there – particularly with Henshaw in the centre – we have athletes who are physically able to hold their own.

“I think we should think less about how we match up physically and more about what’s the best selection to implement our gameplan.”

On top of seeing an effective strategy put into place, the wing who scored when Ireland last toured South African in 2004 is keen to see players who have previously been restricted to the fringe take hold of Test responsibilities. Not only for Jackson, who is likely to start despite Ian Madigan’s late call-up, but also for a potential half-back partner.

“There’s so much on him,” Horgan says of scrum-half Conor Murray

“You think he can’t take much more responsibility on his shoulders, then they lose Johnny Sexton so it doubles up again.. I think of all people, he can deal with it. He speaks and players very well and that’s the most important thing.

“In the nine role our other options haven’t been tried too often. (Kieran) Marmion certainly has something to add, but because Conor is so important from a structural point of view, you take a risk when he’s not on the field.

Shane Horgan working for RTE Television Sky Sports will have exclusive live action of all three Irish tests on Sky Sports 1 with coverage starting from 3.30pm and kick off at 4pm. To celebrate, Sky Sports is offering 6 months half price to all new and existing Sky customers. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“This is the kind of tour when you have to take those risks. You’re bringing players for a reason, the year after a World Cup – the next one is three years away so there’s not a huge amount to be lost.

“I’d like to see (Marmion) demanding that some of the responsibility be removed from Conor and shared more around the field. If we can get that on this tour, we can get the recipe for so much we need in the future and I think there would be a positive outlook.”

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