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world : Can Ireland finally win a series in South Africa?

world : Can Ireland finally win a series in South Africa?
world : Can Ireland finally win a series in South Africa?

Monday 1 July 2024 10:32 PM

Nafeza 2 world - While Ireland have beaten the Springboks in each of their past three meetings, their record in South Africa is not much to shout about, with one win and nine defeats.

That sole victory came during their 2016 tour, when Joe Schmidt's side shrugged off CJ Stander's 22nd-minute red card to beat the Boks 20-16 in Cape Town.

Allister Coetzee's side, however, regrouped to win Tests in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth, denying Ireland a historic series win.

Since then, of course, Ireland have won series against Australia in 2018 (their first against the Wallabies since 1979) and the All Blacks in 2022, the latter marking a historic first series triumph on New Zealand soil.

And while Schmidt's Ireland were a well-oiled unit, Farrell's side are arguably even better.

The World Cup was ultimately a disappointment and they failed to clinch back-to-back Grand Slams in this year's Six Nations, but they will feel they are still well placed to win a series in South Africa.

Of course, with this being a two-Test tour, the likelihood of a draw increases. But if Ireland can replicate the spirit that underpinned their wins over the All Blacks in Dunedin and Wellington two years ago, they stand a chance.

It is also worth noting that this could be this Ireland side's last chance. With the British and Irish Lions tour next year and the introduction of the Nations Championship in 2026, this could be the last traditional tour to South Africa for a while.

An already intense rivalry has been deepened in recent months with several South Africa players stoking the flames while speaking to the media.

Damian de Allende, formerly of Munster, said the first Test in Pretoria will feel "almost like a war", adding that the Springboks felt "disrespected" by heavy media criticism after a crushing defeat by Ireland in Dublin in 2017.

Eben Etzebeth, the Boks' towering lock, attracted headlines when he accused Ireland of being "arrogant" by telling South Africa's players "see you guys in the final" after winning last year's World Cup pool match.

Speaking a couple of weeks ago during Ireland's only pre-travel media opportunity, attack coach Mike Catt said "let them keep talking" when asked about De Allende and Etzebeth's comments.

When it comes down to it, neither side will want to drum up the noise so close to the opening Test, so it will be interesting to see how both camps field questions about the rivalry this week.

Even without key backline players such as Hugo Keenan, Jamison Gibson-Park and Mack Hansen, as well as Jack Conan and Iain Henderson in the pack, Farrell has a remarkable level of talent at his disposal.

But a lot of those players are in need of a lift. As was the case in 2022, Ireland headed off for a southern hemisphere tour on the back of a disappointing end to the club season.

In the past couple of months, Leinster - who are again the most strongly represented province in Farrell's squad - have lost a Champions Cup final to Toulouse in extra-time and a United Rugby Championship semi-final to the Bulls in Pretoria, the scene for Saturday's match.

Munster, too, ended the season in dispiriting fashion with a URC semi-final loss to Glasgow.

Defeats of that nature take a while to get over - whether players care to admit it or not - and with this series arriving at the end of gruelling 13-month season, managing his players' moods and energy levels will be key over the next few weeks.

Rassie Erasmus will name his team for the first Test on Tuesday and, even though they beat Wales last month, there is a sense that this is South Africa's first full squad outing since the World Cup.

The victory in Twickenham over Warren Gatland's side came without his European-based players or the Bulls contingent who were still involved in URC action, while both Cheslin Kolbe and Lukhanyo Am were not considered because of injury.

The likes of Steven Kitshoff, Canan Moodie and Damian Willemse have been ruled out of this pair of games, but Erasmus called his panel "the best squad available".

The former Munster director of rugby already mentioned the 2027 World Cup when confirming the group and it will be interesting to see how much has changed since the night they lifted the Webb Ellis trophy in the Stade de France eight months ago.

The retirement of Duane Vermeulen leaves a hole to be filled in the back row, where Evan Roos and Kwagga Smith are potential replacements, while Am's return after not featuring during the World Cup creates a logjam in midfield.

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