South Africans on a wing and prayer when it comes to Irish opponents


The label of arrogance traditionally levelled at the Springboks is unfair. Take Jon-Paul Roger Pietersen. One of the world’s great wingers spoke in impressive detail yesterday about the Irish back three he will come into (aerial) contact with this Saturday.

“I’ve played against Tommy Bowe . . .” Good opening gambit. Bowe was in opposition during the 2009 Lions series. Only problem was the Natal Dolphin continued talking: “ . . . and I think the other winger is David Skrela or something.” The key words there are “or something”. Unaware of his blunder, Pietersen ploughed on: “He played for Ulster. I watched a couple of Heineken Cup games.”

Skrela was born in Toulouse, which is in France JP, the country he represented 23 times as a outhalf. Presumably Pietersen meant Andrew Trimble. An easy mistake. “I don’t know who is going to play fullback,” the 26-year-old flyer admitted. In fairness, not many expected Simon Zebo to be a likely replacement for Rob Kearney tomorrow “I am sure they are going to test us in the back three. They have exciting wingers so it will be really a challenge for us as wingers and fullback.”

They are so exciting he only knows one by name. This is the norm with touring Southern Hemisphere teams. Pietersen would have been wiser to adopt the policy of backs coach Ricardo Loubscher when asked about Brian O’Driscoll’s possible replacement at centre. “Personally, I don’t think it is going to make much of a difference,” said Loubscher. “Whoever comes in will step up. You’ve to be even more worried about that guy because they normally bring the hunger, the drive and the willingness to succeed.”

“That guy”. We offer further opportunity for them to deviate from platitudes. Considering the amount of Irish casualties has it been tough to do specific research? “At the moment we are just trying to focus on our own game,” Loubscher replied.

The perfect solution; do no research at all. Or convey that impression to the media. The old saying, about having to force respect from the Boks, comes to mind.

In their defence, Loubscher and Pietersen were landed with the media chore at short notice. There was a change to the schedule that meant kicking coach Louis Koen and defence coach John McFarland were unavailable as the Springbok head coach Heyneke Meyer wanted extra kicking and scrummaging sessions. A big hint at what’s coming down the tracks.

It is unlikely European based frontrowers, loosehead Guthrö Steenkamp of Toulouse and Saracens’ hooker Schalk Britz, will break into the team for Saturday as they only arrived in camp yesterday. Also, this is the only settled area in the squad with Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, Adriaan Strauss and Jannie du Plessis expected to pack down. Leinster’s Heinke van der Merwe is on stand-by in case of injury.

The locks also look nailed on with 21-year-old enforcer Eben Etzebeth to be joined by Juandré Kruger while the backrow of Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen and Bath fetcher Francois Louw looks ferocious.

Ruan Pienaar is set to partner 22-year-old Patrick Lambie at halfback while Tour captain Jean de Villiers has recovered from a hamstring strain and will earn his 82nd cap with either Jaco Taute or Juan de Jongh wearing 13.

Taute showcased his power when replacing the injured Frans Steyn against New Zealand and Australia. However, de Jongh excelled for Western Province in the Currie Cup final. The back three’s cutting edge while severely blunted by the loss of Bryan Habana is offset by Pietersen’s return from a broken thumb. The 45 times capped winger was voted South Africa’s players player of the year after an electric Super Rugby campaign, albeit at centre.

“We all know my preferred position is wing but I am a team man so I’ll play wherever the coach wants me.”

Without Habana he will probably return out wide, possibly marking Trimble (not Skrela), with pacy scrumhalf convert Francois Hougaard on the other wing and Zane Kirchner at fullback.

Meyer announces his team at lunchtime today.

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