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New Zealand or South Africa in the quarters? Thanks to Rassie, there's no longer an easier option

Bernard Jackman explains how the former Munster boss has turned things around in his native land.

WE’RE LESS THAN six weeks out from Rugby World Cup kick-off in Japan, which means it was high time for The42 Rugby Weekly to end its summer hiatus and return for World Cup warm-up season.

In a meaty first episode back in their respective hotseats, analysts Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella, and presenter Gavan Casey, dove into Ireland’s squad selection for this Saturday’s Test with Italy in Dublin, and what it might mean for the smaller final group of players which eventually boards the plane for Japan.

The lads discussed the direction in which Ireland might try to take things after an off-colour Six Nations, as well as how our pool and potential quarter-final foes are faring in the lead-up to the tournament.

Should Ireland progress to the last eight as expected, it’s likely that they’ll square off either with world champions New Zealand or Rassie Erasmus’ resurgent Springboks, who recently fought the All Blacks to a draw in Wellington in the Rugby Championship.

And Bernard now believes that no matter who finishes top or second in their respective pools, Erasmus’ influence — much of it garnered during his time at Munster — means that Ireland will have to face off one of arguably the two tournament favourites if Schmidt’s side are to finally attain a semi-final berth.

Gavan: “You go back a couple of years and you would have been licking your lips at the prospect of facing the Springboks in the quarter-final.

“At the moment there’s no real right answer, I don’t think, as to who you’d rather face in the quarter-final, Bernard, is there?”

Bernard: “Definitely not.

“I think the ‘Boks are the team that have improved most over the last 12 months.

“You have to take into account as well, Rassie’s predecessors didn’t have control over selection policies.

“There was a massive player drain out of South Africa. The squad didn’t always seem to be on the same page. The squad didn’t seem to be on the same page in terms of understanding their identity and their culture.

And I think Rassie seems to have relaxed a little bit. He was a very much a ‘paint-by-numbers- type’ coach. And I’m not saying he’s not any more, but I think his stint in Ireland – it seems to be from the outside-in, and speaking to a few coaches I know in South Africa – he seems to have really tapped into that squad harmony and spirit and what it means to be a ‘Bok.

“And that inclusiveness. They seem happier and they’re playing with a smile on their face, which was never something you saw from the
Springboks. They always seemed to play with a huge amount of pressure.

“It didn’t stop them performing, but they seem to be quite relaxed in their own skin [now] and obviously, the game plan is, he’s got his lieutenant as defence coach, [Jacques] Nienaber.

“They’ve never been poor or weak in terms of being able to have a very tactically and technically good scrum and lineout. They’ve always had wonderful kickers. They’ve a lot of the key ingredients for knockout rugby.

I could see them beating the All Blacks in the group. Maybe the All Blacks could go on and win the competition, but there’s very little between them.

“That game a couple weeks ago, I would have said the referee made a couple of difficult calls against South Africa – not that it matters realistically to the All Blacks to lose a game now.

I do think, given the quality of player they have — like they’ve got a lot of world-class players and they’ve got a very good coaching staff now — and for me, they’re not far off being favourites. They’re not favourites, but they’re not far off being favourites.

You can listen to The42 Rugby Weekly on iTunes or your regular podcast provider.

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