VIDEO: Faf on what makes Ireland so dangerous
Ireland, on a 15-game winning streak, have all the hallmarks of a team that could put a huge dent in South Africa’s dream of retaining their World Cup title.
Saturday’s contest in front of a sold-out 80,000-capacity Stade de France will be a different level entirely for both teams, matching the intensity and quality of the tournament’s opening fixture between hosts France and New Zealand.
The Springboks have won 18 of their 27 previous matches with Ireland, but it is the Irish who have held the upper hand in recent years – winning four of the last six meetings, including a 19-16 victory in Dublin last November.
Following that victory, the Irish went on to win the Six Nations Grand Slam and claim the No.1 ranking in the world.
South Africa and Ireland will face each other at the World Cup for the first time, despite having faced off on 87 previous occasions – with the Springboks having won 45 times and Ireland 42.
Springbok scrumhalf Faf de Klerk admitted the occasion and Ireland’s winning streak are two big factors, but felt the Boks are up for the challenge.
“Obviously you get confidence from winning,” he told a media briefing at the team’s base at Route Du Golf Des Vanneaux in the village of Presles.
“You learn how to win and they’ve done that,” De Klerk added.
“Their biggest strength is their accuracy, surrounding their whole game.
“They have a very balanced game and a very high skillset. That gets them a long way.”
He said the Irish know how to create quick ball through dominant carries and quick ruck clearance.
“They also have a good set piece – just a very balanced team.”
He added that they have “very experienced” players in key positions.
“They’ve been there, done that and the group is predominantly the same.
“They know each other really well.
“We just need to try and break all those connections up.”
“If you start getting on a roll and win, it just comes easier.”
De Klerk said the Boks are “well prepared and eager” for the crucial face-off.
(WATCH as seasoned Springbok scrumhalf talks about Saturday’s World Cup[ Pool B crunch match between South Africa and Ireland…)
Defending champions 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).
“There’s a lot at stake, but we have prepared well,” De Klerk said.
“We’ve always known this game was going to be crucial.
“[However,] there were a lot more challenges in previous games.”
He said they gained a lot of ‘experience’ from those situations they went through.
“It’s a World Cup match and we all know what’s at stake.
“As a group, we are very well prepared and very eager to get going and get it over with.”
De Klerk returns to the No.9 jersey after filling in at flyhalf against Romania, but with the coaching team of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber opting for a 7-1 forward split on the bench, he will be needed to cover if anything happens to Manie Libbok.
“I don’t think it will happen but if it needs to, I am very comfortable stepping up,” he said.
“I played there before in my career and at schoolboy level.
“This is obviously a lot bigger, but I’ve been training there since we got together as a group. I’ve trained there a lot.”
He took over from an erratic Manie Libbok as a goalkicker in the win over Scotland, but does expect it to be a regular occurrence.
“That only happened once,” he said.
“We just felt I should take over.
“Manie was playing amazing rugby, got man of the match. We didn’t want to make that a thing.
“We scored a try and we told Manie: ‘You just focus on your game and I’ll take over from here’ – so that was it.
“It’s not like if he misses three kicks I automatically take over.
“We all know how well he can kick and we have full confidence.
“It’s really not an issue.
“He’ll probably go 100 percent this weekend.”
De Klerk also believes that the buzz in the Springbok camp is on a par with that of 2019 when they went on to lift the World Cup for the third time.
“Definitely. We have lost a few boys along the way but we’ve also gained a lot of players, experienced players and some magic.
“The majority of the group has stayed the same, which is great for cohesion but the guys that have come in have played amazing rugby and adjusted to the culture so well and been an asset to the team.
“They aren’t just great rugby players but great people. That’s something that we really try and focus on.
“In a World Cup, it’s important we are all great mates and there are no issues inside the team. If we keep it like it is, then we are as tight as 2019.”