The Springboks will have to find a way to “outsmart” the Irish at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, despite the fact that Ireland now has a greater physical advantage under coach Andy Farrell (7.30pm SA time kick-off).
According to Rassie Erasmus, the director of rugby for the Springboks, who spent 18 months in a similar position at Munster a few years ago and therefore knows most of the Irish players well.
The Boks will look to avenge their 38-3 loss to the Irish in Dublin in 2017, when New Zealander Joe Schmidt was the head coach.
Farrell, who was the defense coach at the time, took over after the 2019 Rugby World Cup. His greatest accomplishment to date was the 2-1 series victory against the All Blacks in New Zealand earlier this year.
Johnny Sexton, the veteran captain and flyhalf, leads Ireland’s kicking game, which complements the team’s ball-in-hand attacking style.
But while Erasmus believes that their pack has significantly improved under Farrell over the last few years, the former England centre made an interesting decision on Thursday to select only five forwards on the bench, with the Boks opting for a ‘Bomb Squad’ split of six and two.
The selection of Tadhg Beirne at No. 4 lock instead of blindside flank, where Peter O’Mahony will combine with the quick Josh van der Flier at openside and the skilled and athletic Caelan Doris at No. 8, indicates that the Irish will maintain their high-tempo style of play.
The world champions will initially employ a physical approach before bringing on Deon Fourie and Kwagga Smith to increase the tempo in the second half.
“We will need to defend effectively. Our wings also score tries… It benefits both parties. If the weather cooperates… “I suppose our defense will have to be top-notch in both directions,” Erasmus said.
“It is extremely difficult to compare Farrell and Schmidt… In addition to their technical prowess, I believe this team has a significant physical advantage.
“I do not believe that team (Schmidt) had a particularly sharp edge. You can ask the players, but I believe the most difficult aspect to counter was their technical play style. It wasn’t perhaps robustness and brashness… It was all about “These folks are smarter than you” – that was how they played.
“However, I cannot say that about the present team, as they are in their current position. When they gave us a 38-3 score, perhaps they believed we lacked a physical advantage or were soft! Thus, things change rapidly.
“The crowd here is not antagonistic, but they do support their home” (team). You can sense the pressure they are under to do something tiny in a great way, but the crowd erupts. Then the weather…
“And then the unknown: a number of our players have faced them in the URC, which gives you some insight into their style of play. However, there is an element of uncertainty, and the weather poses a challenge.
“We have some strengths that we believe will be advantageous in this game, but I do not believe that this team can be easily defeated.
Andy is an ex-rugby league player who was one of the toughest rugby league players ever, and he is now a defense coach. Therefore, we must devise special strategies to outwit them.
“And then the technical aspects of the game that Paul (O’Connell, assistant coach) brings to the table… We will have to be smart. I won’t tell where I think we have to be smart! But let’s see on Saturday who’s smart.”
15 Hugo Keenan 14 Robert Baloucoune 13 Garry Ringrose 12 Robbie Henshaw 11 Mack Hansen 10 Johnny Sexton (captain) 9 Conor Murray 8 Caelan Doris 7 Josh van der Flier 6 Peter O’Mahony 5 James Ryan 4 Tadhg Beirne 3 Tadhg Furlong 2 Dan Sheehan 1 Andrew Porter.
Bench: 16 Rob Herring 17 Cian Healy 18 Finlay Bealham 19 Kieran Treadwell 20 Jack Conan 21 Jamison Gibson-Park 22 Joey Carbery 23 Stuart McCloskey.