Ireland target historic series win in South Africa

‘It’s going to be a massive test for us but it’s one we’re very much looking forward to’

The Irish team and replacements went through their customary eve-of-match Captain's Run at the iconic Ellis Park - where Nelson Mandela famously handed over the William Webb Ellis trophy to Francois Pienaar in 1995 - and the exercise has clearly whetted the appetite of the Irish captain, Rory Best.

“I think the week we had in Dublin and the week we had in Cape Town, all we were focused on was that first Test. We’ve come through that now and all we’ve talked about this week is the second Test and even training out there, it’s been a few years since I was out here in an Under-21 World Cup but it’s a magnificent stadium. It really is what rugby stadiums should be about, you can just imagine what the atmosphere is going to be like out there.

“Look, it’s going to be a massive test for us but it’s one we’re very much looking forward to. To come to South Africa and play the Springboks in Johannesburg - it’s up there as one of the toughest Test matches you’ll face.”

The Irish team goes into this pivotal second test seeking an unprecedented and unlikely series clinching win after their heroic and historic 14-man (and for ten minutes 13-man) first ever win over the Boks on South African soil last week. But the boost to confidence has to be tempered by a need to park that win.


“We’ve been concentrating on how we can improve. We know the Springboks are going to come out and they’re going to want to be better, but we also want to make sure that in this next game that we improve our own performance. Look, there’s going to be a lot of intensity and a lot of ferocity in the first 10 minutes especially and we know that and we’re going to have to as prepared as we can for that, but I don’t think in terms of any psychological advantage.

“I think that we talked before the first game that we have beaten them before and that we know how to beat them, but knowing how to beat them and actually doing that are two different things. Look we take confidence from what we achieved last week but we know that this is a different track, a different match and I’m sure we’re going to face a different Springboks side as well.”

Indeed, however physical they were last week, the wounded Springboks are liable to be even more aggressive and abrasive this weekend.

“I think it was a very ferocious Test match last week and I know that they’ve probably come under a little bit of criticism but for me it was a really, really tough game. I think that they’ll want to come out and impose themselves physically on us. They probably feel that we got away from them a little bit there.

“We can’t allow them to get a foothold in the game because if you let a Springbok team, especially at Ellis Park, get a foothold in the game, it’s going to be a very tough evening for you.”

Even without the suspended CJ Stander, the Irish team contains two other South African-born players. Lock Quinn Roux makes his debut from the start and Richardt Strauss, who made his debut against the 'Boks and his cousin Adriaan Strauss at the Aviva Stadium in November 2012, is backing up Best on the bench.

“It’s something that Quinn, along with CJ and Straussy, invested in a number of years ago when they moved to Ireland,” said Best. “I think it’s an accumulation of a lot of hard work for him.

“It’s a special day puling on a Test jersey for the first me and he’ll obviously be very nervous, especially in front of probably a lot of friends and family for him . . . what we always say to all the debutants is you’ve got to relax and enjoy it especially this next 24 hours, there’s something really special about the build-up to an international, the nerves, the butterflies, everything that goes with it and you’ve got to enjoy that.

“It’s a few years since I got it but I remember people saying it goes by in a flash. At the time, you think it doesn’t but when you look back, it does. So, I think for him it’s important to savour this next 24-odd hours and then just come five o’clock, just do what he’s been doing for his province at home and that’s why he’s been selected.”

It is also a big day for Tadhg Furlong, who makes his first Test start after six games off the bench, with two more potential debutants in Sean Reidy and Tiernan O'Halloran among the replacements.

“It is. I know I keep referring back to the same phrase but what a place for Tadhg to get his first start against one of the toughest scrums in world rugby, one of the best looseheads in world rugby,” Best added.

“Tadhg has come on a lot. He’s improved beyond sight, even his experiences at the World Cup he maybe didn’t get a lot of game-time but you felt when he came back from that, he was a different player for Leinster. We’ve experienced it a few times for Ulster how good he can be. We know that’s going to have to produce one of his best performances but that’s the sort of pressure that we put on players.

“We’ve freshened up the team a little bit this week. It’s about giving guys the opportunity to improve on the performances of the guys last week. Rossy did really, really well last week. It’s now Tadhg’s opportunity to show that he’s learned a lot from him and he is capable of moving on to that next step and it’s where Ireland need him to go to and that’s to be challenging hard to be the starting tight-head.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times