On Tuesday in Paris Cheslin Kolbe spoke about his pride in being a Springbok, scoring tries for the Springboks. The left wing, along with Kurt-Lee Arendse on the other side and Jesse Kriel at outside centre, will be of interest to the Ireland outside centre Garry Ringrose at Stade de France on Saturday night.
The mental workload for Ringrose exponentially increases over the coming two days.
As the mustachioed Irish team arrived in from Tours to the suburbs of the capital for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup clash, they prepared themselves for a dramatic shift in gear. Kolbe and Arendse, the two blades in the South African offence, are part of the reason Andy Farrell never fails to pick a fit Ringrose.
In the past, the 28-year-old has faced criticism for missing tackles, yet Farrell selects him because it has become part of his job, not to miss tackles, but to put his body in places that can stand players still, impede them, shut off opportunities for opponents such as South Africa to get ball to the likes of Kolbe and Arendse.
“Attack-wise, they have some of the most dangerous individuals in world rugby on top form,” says Ringrose. “So, when we don’t have the ball, there’s no room for switching off concentration-wise or we will concede. That’s not even to mention the physical challenge, so it’s a concoction of everything, really.
“A lot of the time I rely on the guys around me to pick up guys when I miss tackles defensively. I’ll be asking that of Bundee [Aki] this week. The pace out wide, the counterattack threat they have, you can’t really defend on your own against some of the individuals. They have physical ability to win the gain line with the centres but then have the ability and footwork and kicking ability as well.”
Earlier this year, probably the best 13 to wear the Ireland shirt, Brian O’Driscoll, spoke about how Ringrose plays and the nuance of shooting up on players. It is not always to make the tackle but sometimes to funnel attacking players to the inside where space is less and bodies are more. Ringrose coming up and out of the Irish defensive fast forces players to check their runs and he does it while maintaining the integrity of the line.
When Ireland played France in this year’s Six Nations Championship, it was O’Driscoll who pointed out that what many see as an impetuous outside centre flashing up is actually a very controlled and effective method of frustrating players like Kolbe.
“That is what he is doing, stopping it,” said O’Driscoll. “By shooting a lot of time he is denying [Thomas] Ramos, [Ethan] Dumortier, [Damian] Penaud from getting the ball from [Gaël] Fickou and from [Yoram] Moefana. That has been a real change this year. He is given licence to do it from Simon Easterby. But it seems to be rewarded at the moment because it is working for them and is stopping those danger players getting more possessions.
“The nervous part of defending at 13 is there is always danger out wide, the fast men, so you want [the opposition] to give it to the bigger ball players more often than not, keep it away from the fast guys that have X-factor.”
Typically, Ringrose and Aki, sitting beside him and set to win his 50th cap, are leaning into the challenge of the defending world champions. There is respect more than fear, excitement more than anxiety.
Respecting South Africa’s challenge and physical threat, there is the hint of a bring it on, a vibe Ireland are not overly playing. They understand time will be denied them in the eye of the Springbok rush.
“You want to get a chance in the toughest games, the toughest challenges to see how you go,” says Ringrose.
“It’s really tough, and it’s not by chance that they get it, it’s coached well and they train it well. It’s a nightmare for a lot of teams and so what it feels like to me... sometimes you get blindsided and you don’t see it so the challenge is to be scanning as much as possible and read body language and different cues and be aware of it before it happens – but even that is hard to do.
“I think a big thing when the ball is going away from you to get connected with your own players and hopefully make them make decisions. But then there is so many good defenders in their team, they usually make the right decisions. There is a whole host of things you need to get right. It’s a huge threat, but hopefully it can be an opportunity if you’re on it.”
There’s a lot going on out in the fringes at 13. Getting the man with the ball is one of them. But pride too in doing a team’s bidding.