Springbok bully boys likely to have too much up front for ‘nice’ Ireland

A year on and New Zealand heartbreak lingers. Distraction is the way to avoid a repeat against South Africa.

The Springboks are “coached by the fist-pumping, eye-bulging, table-thumping, shall we say expressive Heyneke Meyer.” Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images.

The Springboks are “coached by the fist-pumping, eye-bulging, table-thumping, shall we say expressive Heyneke Meyer.” Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images.

 

And so it’s autumn again, or as the Yanks would have it, “fall”. The season of wonder and mystery is well under way as long, balmy nights have given way to sharp, shiny, brass-monkey ones.

But what captures autumn more than anything else? Crispy brown leaves? Chestnuts? Wanting the clocks to go back every week? Or Ireland versus New Zealand last year? Sorry, yep, me too. The Yanks are right. “Fall” it is.

Indeed it is a year we should be over it by now but, agghhh, how the pain lingers. Let it go, says the voice, let...it...go.

The Autumn Internationals are a strange fish. Arriving as they do as our domestic season gets into its stride, (although for our provinces there’s been stuttering and stumbling), Ireland take on the might of the Southern Hemisphere with invariably familiar results. While not wishing to dwell on the horror of 24/11 last year, a quick, wince-filled glance at the closing minutes on YouTube yesterday puts into perspective just how difficult it is to warm to them. The November series that is, not New Zealanders.

As Giovanni Trapattoni once said “a year is a long time in sport”. At least I think that’s what he said.

Philosophers

Indeed, a year on with divil an un-rung bell to be un-heard (Eddie was right), Ireland, the Six Nations champions, face South Africa who are just the second best team in the world and the only team in two years to beat the All Blacks. Shouldn’t be a problem then.

The Springboks are like a school bully who refuses to give you back your ball. It often seems like they don’t necessarily even want your ball – they just don’t want you to have it.

In order to get one over on them you have to distract them, score while they’re not looking, as Ronan O’Gara demonstrated in 2004 when we stuffed them 17-12.

This year they are a different animal though. They are coached by the fist-pumping, eye-bulging, table-thumping, shall we say expressive Heyneke Meyer, whose refreshing philosophy seems to place its faith in pace, youth and running rugby.

Free-wheeling half-backs Francois Hougaard and Handre Pollard, who brilliantly managed three tries between them in that victory over the All Blacks, play like it was the 1970s all over again. You wouldn’t know it to look at Meyer whether his team had just scored or conceded a try, it’s the same gesticulating routine, finished off with a look of crazed intensity. Each to his own, I say.

Mixed with gnarled, grizzly forwards such as Bismarck du Plessis, Duane Vermeulen and the less than laid-back Bakkies Botha springing from the bench, their entire pack look like they wouldn’t be out of place in the remake of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The only difference is that you can picture these boys hunting for their dinner.

It does beg the question are Irish rugby players too nice in the heat of battle? If there’s a dust up this Saturday you’d imagine it could involve any of the Springbok pack, but outside of Peter “Mad Dog” O’Mahony it’s hard to envisage any Irish player being the aggressor.

Personally I’d love to see Devin Toner shave his head, confront his opposite number Eben Etzebeth with his intimidating Leinster Rugby accent and give him some “yea whatever, like bring it on”.

And after Etzebeth contemplates consuming him whole, as in while he’s distracted, Dev could give him a wedgie and run away. At least that way he’d know Dev was playing.

Tighthead worries

Joe Schmidt

Now if the situation had occurred at Leinster it would’ve been fine. Matt O’Connor would simply have put Ian Madigan in at tighthead.

O’Connor would probably tell us, “Ian’s a great blowk in this environment. I know he’s nivir plaayed tight-hid, but I expict hum to throive in the front-row environment.”

As for the European Rugby Champions Cup? The pompous mouthful of a title speaks volumes and it seems certain any tournament will struggle to engage with the public when no-one even likes its name.

Sky Sports, with its endless positivity, has this year introduced an in-match chat with the coach and a half-time catch-up with one of the breathless players leaving the pitch. It’s a new low in vacuousness but a seemingly vital cog in the wheel of TV nonsense.

RTÉ sports coverage couldn’t ever be accused of endless positivity and is unlikely to follow Sky’s lead in this series.

Sitting Bull Hook would have a hissy fit – “Tohhhhmmm what are you doing talking to the players at half-toime? That means less toime for meeeeehh!!”

It’s hard to see Ireland matching the Boks up front or, indeed, living with the pace of their backs. Maybe this year Joe is targeting the Aussies. Let’s just hope we don’t have a repeat of 24/11.

Prediction? Ireland to win two matches, but not this one.

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