Ireland v South Africa - teams and prediction
PREVIEW: The feature match of Round Three. It is Ireland versus South Africa in their first-ever encounter at a World Cup at Stade de France in Paris on Saturday.
The match presents us with two of the most iconic teams at the global showpiece – the world’s top-ranked team, Ireland, against the defending and three-time champions South Africa.
It is, without doubt, the most anticipated match since the opening round – when hosts France dismissed three-time former champions New Zealand 27-13 at the same venue.
The men from the Emerald Isle come into the match on a 15-match winning streak – which includes a victory over the Springboks last November and a Six Nations Grand Slam this year.
The Springboks, though, look as if they are peaking at the right time and inflicted a record 35-7 defeat on fellow three-time champions New Zealand their final warm-up match before the start of the tournament.
Both sides have two wins from two so far.
South Africa opened their World Cup account with a hard-fought 18-3 win over Scotland and followed that with a 76-0 demolition of Romania.
Ireland, meanwhile, have had comfortable bonus point wins over Romania (82-8) and Tonga (59-16).
The biggest talking point in the build-up to this face-off was the decision by Bok coach Jacques Nienaber to field seven forwards on an eight-man replacement bench – a tactic that worked wonders against New Zealand when he sent all seven forwards on at once early in the second half.
The Springbok coach, Nienaber, admitted the tactic worked well in that game.
(The preview continues below …)
“The bench had a big impact,” he said, adding that the famed ‘bomb squad’ (now renamed the Nuke Squad) also played an important role in the opening round win over Scotland.
“The players that start and the players that come off the bench have specific roles to perform.
“People say the starting front is your first choice and the guys off the bench is your second choice.
“It may work like that for other teams, but in our team it definitely doesn’t work like that.”
Nienaber admitted there was a ‘risk’ involved, but said they are comfortable with that.
“It is a risk, but for us it is a calculated risk,” he said.
“Guys on the bench cover various positions,” he said, adding that the versatility within their squad is what affords them the luxury.
“Nothing stops anyone else doing that.”
Ireland coach Andy Farrell joked about potentially playing seven backs on his bench, but quickly dismissed the notion that they were tempted to follow a similar tactic.
He gave Nienaber credit for his novel approach.
“It’s great,” said Farrell.
“It obviously suits them, they know their squad and so do we.
“It doesn’t really bother me at all.”
While defeat for the Irish would probably leave them with a must-win final pool game against Scotland, Farrell tried to play down the significance of the result.
“It’s not a do or die type of game,” the Irish coach said, adding: “It’s pretty important to both teams, let’s put it that way.”
The Irish are on a run of 15 successive Test victories, but Farrell said it had not all been smooth since he took over after the 2019 World Cup.
“Our journey’s had all sorts and it prepares you for bits like this,” said Farrell.
“I suppose we’ll learn a bit more after this one as well.”
Nienaber said Ireland doesn’t have many weaknesses.
“They are a quality outfit,” he said, adding: “This is one of those games you want to play in – No.1 in the world against the World Cup champions.
“It will be a proper Test match.”
The Bok coach admitted that the game is vital in terms of qualifying for the playoffs, but reiterated the statement that they have been in ‘playoff’ mode since their opening match against Scotland.
“A win, for us and for Ireland, will put you in a good position,” he told @rugby365com, adding: “The pressure has been there since the World Cup started.
“It is still knock-out rugby for us.”
He added that ‘discipline’ will be vital in a match of this nature, when there is so little between the sides.
“It is not just about keeping 15 players on the field, discipline in general – like your penalty count.
“Ireland, if you concede a penalty, will convert that into points or get territory and then put you under pressure in your own 22.
“Both teams will try to be as disciplined as possible, but sometimes rugby incidents happen and then we have to adjust.”
Nienaber said it will be a clash of two teams with experienced, calm heads, two very well-matched teams.
Players to watch
For Ireland: The focus, no doubt, would be on iconic captain Johnny Sexton. However, a player who so often slips under the radar, but is just as vital is Bundee Aki, who will win his 50th cap for Ireland on Saturday. The 33-year-old New Zealand-born centre has been in outstanding form in Ireland’s first two games, scoring four tries and being named Man of the Match in the 59-16 victory over Tonga last Saturday. Flyhalf Johnny Sexton will captain an Irish side that shows just a single change from the one that started against Tonga, with Jamison Gibson-Park returning at scrumhalf. Conor Murray, Sexton’s long-time halfback partner, drops to the bench. Alongside Murray on the bench will be Dan Sheehan, who has recovered from injury and replaces Rob Herring as the replacement hooker.
For South Africa: Veteran lock Eben Etzebeth makes his return after recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered in the opening round match against Scotland. Nienaber made 13 changes to the side that dismantled Romania, reverting to 14 of the 15 players who started in the 18-3 opening win over the Scots. The only change compared to that match sees Bongi Mbonambi take the place of injured hooker Malcolm Marx. And then there is the seven-one split on the bench. Damian Willemse at fullback and Manie Libbok at flyhalf are also key players, but scrumhalf Faf de Klerk may well be the real game driver in the backline.
Head to head
@rugby365com: South Africa by five points
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Ryan Baird, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Robbie Henshaw.
South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 RG Snyman, 21 Marco van Staden, 22 Kwagga Smith, 23 Cobus Reinach.
Date: Saturday, September 23
Venue: Stade de France, Saint-Denis, Paris
Kick-off: 21.00 (19.00 GMT; 21.00 SAST; 20.00 UK & Ireland time)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy, with little to no chance of precipitation. High of 19°C, low of 9°C
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France) & James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
- Additional reporting by AFP