Ireland ready to face the heat of South Africa on and off the pitch
Warm winter in Cape Town greets Joe Schmidt’s side on their first full day of tour
The Ireland squad during a training session at Westerford High School below the Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA
It’s winter in Cape Town but these things are relative. A fully fit Irish squad conducted their first training session in the sumptuous surrounds of Westerford High School overlooked by Table Mountain under clear blue skies in temperatures in the mid-20s. And some like it hot.
Forwards coach Simon Easterby, who played in both of Ireland’s last Tests in South Africa in 2004, thus highlighted the rare sense of opportunity which this tour provides. Admitting that “we stuttered a little bit at the start of the Six Nations” Easterby added: “the players have come back in and are in a better place maybe than they were off the back of the World Cup when they came into the Six Nations. I feel we’ve stepped on rather than having to go back to go forward again.”
“So I don’t think it’s an issue. I think they see it as a real opportunity and a chance to come down here and make some history. And if they’re part of that, then it’s a real special thing and you don’t get those opportunities very often. It’s been 12 years since we were here last and these players won’t be playing for this team, more than likely, in 12 years’ time when we come back here again. For them it will be their only opportunity to perform down here.”
Accordingly, the squad had returned to their hotel base with a palpable spring in their step. “The heat is something to get used to,” admitted a grinning Ultan Dillane, “but the views up there where we were training today was unbelievable. We all had the phones out afterwards taking pictures.”
Craig Gilroy, a late call-up, added: “I’d enjoy training generally, so it’s nice to have it in a bit of sunshine. And the landscape as well, we trained this morning at Westerford High School and it was lovely, a nice setting and a good temperature. A nice enclosure with the trees, and we had the backdrop of Table Mountain and it was a good temperature.”
Today is a down day, for which shark-diving is amongst the planned events. “I’ll probably go shark diving,” said Gilroy. “I think there’s a bit of golf, and a bit of sight-seeing. But flip you don’t get a lot of opportunities to go shark-diving.”
Accordingly, the squad were largely impervious to the increased security around them in their base near the city’s waterfront. This has followed threats by the ANC Youth League to disrupt the Springboks’ three-Test series against Ireland due to an apparent lack of transformation in the sport.
Twelve players of colour have been included in new coach Allister Coetzee’s 31-man Springbok squad but that is not enough, according to the ANC Youth League, whose secretary-general, Njabulo Nzuza, said that the series would be disrupted by protests, but would not reveal which games would be targeted.
Mzuza said it’s not enough for black players to be included in the squad, only to then sit on the bench. The league said that SA Rugby had not taken its demands for transformation “seriously” and had not replied to the memorandum of demands they had delivered on May 11th.
Ironically, there have been similar threats from the National Conservative Party on the premise that transformation had gone too far.
Furthermore, the US Diplomatic Mission to South Africa has informed its citizens that the US Government has received information that terrorist groups are planning to carry out near-term attacks against places where American citizens congregate, such as upscale shopping areas in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
“It’s great to be back in South Africa on an awesome winter’s day,” said Duane Vermeulen, who has overcome a neck injury to be here. “I have no ill-effects from getting in late. My body is 100 per cent and I can turn my neck properly.”
“I feel as excited to be here as every debutant. On Sunday night we watched a video which [forwards’ coach] Johann Van Graan put together to motivate us and I got goosebumps. You must never lose that feeling of being fortunate to be part of something special. Not much has changed in terms of the approach to the game so it’s been easy to slot in.”
The Springboks backrower has also forsaken the Top 14 run-in with Toulon to be here, despite predictable threats from their owner Mourad Boudjellal to withhold his salary.
“There was never a question about coming back. I said from the beginning that I want to play international rugby and if I can represent my country, it doesn’t matter where I am based, I will do it as best I can.”
“Everything is set out in a contract and all I want to do is play for South Africa.”