Ireland Vs South Africa – Preview

Tony McBride

Tony McBride

Tony is a PE and English teacher who hails from County Donegal and believes that the will to win is often the greatest asset a team can have.
Tony McBride

As Ireland prepare to face the Springboks in less than 24 hours’ time, we take a look at the game ahead.

Starting and finishing with team selection, we look at the team in depth and talk about the potential each player has to make an impact in the game.

Make no mistake about it, the best fullback in Ireland will be watching from the couch on Saturday while the second best will be sitting on the bench. South Africa have always been well practiced in aerial bombardment and in Rob Kearney, Schmidt has selected his best option by way of preparation for that. Kearney may not give you a dangerous counter attack, and he most certainly will not give you that last ditch tackle in defence but he will bring a wealth of experience and positional expertise to a relatively untested back three. Although Andrew Conway is a quality player for Munster, he is certainly no Keith Earls and his absence will be felt from the back three.

On the other wing, Stockdale is primed and ready for his home debut. I am a massive fan of the Ulster winger and I think tomorrow will mark the beginning of a long and successful international career for him. What will be most interesting is to see how he copes with Kearney as his inside man. At Ulster, Stockdale and Piutau have been in scintillating form. Much of their highlights would show the pair working in tandem and Stockdale has most certainly been a beneficiary of that partnership. It will be intriguing to see how he gels with Kearney tomorrow and if he can offer that same counter attack ability. At 8/1 though, he is my pick for first try scorer and given even half a chance, I expect him to finish any opportunity which comes his way.

At half backs, we are almost certainly living in dreamland with Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton steering the ship. To have one of the best halfbacks in world rugby is an incredible asset for any team but to have two is simply unbelievable. When Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton are both on song, there isn’t a team in the world that Ireland cannot topple.

The backrow see’s the usual makeup of O’Mahoney, O’Brien and Stander. With O’Brien carrying a knock it, and South Africa being one of the most physical sides in world rugby, Rhys Ruddock too can expect to have a major impact on the game. O’Brien is the most on-form of the four backrows available but his injury could limit his playing time. While Stander has struggled to reach his own high standards since the Lions tour, we mustn’t forget his South African heritage. I expect tomorrow to stoke the fire in CJ Stander once again. He is an individual who plays with high emotion and these are the kind of occasions that are likely to draw the best from him.

In the front row, Schmidt has reinstalled the absolute machine that is Cian Healy. I firmly believe that even with a fit McGrath, Healy was in line to start this game anyway. In recent weeks he has become accustomed to scoring tries while he still gives a solid performance at scrum-time just as he did when he first came on the scene. Furlong too will dominate his opposite tomorrow and that’s no easy task as he packs down against “The Beast” Tendai Mtawarira. Where Ireland could be outmuscled will be at hooker and in the second row with Malcolm Marx (2) and Eben Etzebeth (4) posing real physical threat. Although it hasn’t officially been recognised yet, Eben Etzebeth holds the world record for the largest bicep in world rugby. It is due to be enrolled in the Guinness book of records once they manage to make a measuring tape large enough to cover the circumference of his arm.

Last but not least we look at the centre. There’s a reason I’ve left him to last and that is that Bundee Aki has had his fair share of both criticism and praise this week. A lot has been said about the New Zealand natives pending debut and not much of it has focused on his actual rugby ability. Now, when I heard that Aki had been included in the squad, I was disappointed. Not because I was bitter at the absence of Simon Zebo and certainly not some sort of hatred for “project players” and all that they stand for. It is my firm belief that the residency rule is a positive thing for Irish Rugby and this talk of “he’s keeping a good Irish player out of the team” is nonsense.

These project players ultimately raise the standard and any player who is good enough, who is professional enough should look at it as healthy competition for the jersey. But my disappointment was based on rugby playing ability and for me, Aki was not who we should be seeing in the 12 jersey tomorrow. If I were picking the team, I’d have opted for the ever improving Rory Scannell but given the character of the player, I think his absence from the squad will only motivate him to continue his development. There is no doubting that Aki has been one of the standout players for Connacht in recent years. His physicality is probably one of his most impressive parts of his game, but only when he manages to control it.

My honest belief is that Aki is a good player but he is also a fiery one and I personally see him as a loose cannon. Don’t be surprised if he takes a 10 minute breather in the bin at some point.

With the team covered all that remains is for me to air my prediction and I predict and Ireland win. They may have outbid us for the World Cup but they certainly won’t beat us tomorrow in our backyard.

My Mystic McBride prediction is: Ireland to beat the handicap of 5 points, helped by a first try from Stockdale and Aki to see a yellow at some point of the game. Oh and CJ for man of the match.

And Yes, I did steal Conor McGregor’s catchphrase but if he wants it back, he can fight me for it.

C’mon Ireland.

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