PSA Academies’ Johne Murphy has experienced the satisfaction of beating the bruising Boks playing for Leicester Tigers and he’s looked at Ireland’s chances of getting the 2018 Autumn Series Rugby off to a flying start against them in the Aviva Stadium tomorrow night
It’s always great to have International Rugby to look forward to but there’s something about this time of the year, with the rapidly darkening evenings and gradually colder temperatures, that makes the Autumn Series matches so special.
The reality is that Ireland’s record in these games has gone from mediocre to incredibly strong in a rugby generation, peaking with the ‘never-to-be-forgotten’ win over the AB’s in Chicago. So it hardly comes as a surprise that modern Irish fans always enter these games with optimism. Of course, having the master tactician in Joe Schmidt in our corner also helps!
So, it is with that backdrop that we welcome a Springbok side in transition (again) to Dublin, with added intrigue added by the increased links between the countries, whether it being the ‘near miss’ summer tour in 2016, the recent cross over of coaches & players or the 2023 bid tussle.
On face value, South Africa present a BIG challenge for Ireland. As ever, they come with a big, bruising squad with a point to prove after a very mixed Rugby Championship. They also have a certain Rassie Erasmus that they need to impress for down the line. But for all their strengths, they have some glaring weaknesses that the Irish coaching ticket and squad will have gone to town on in their prep for the game.
Simply put, the South Africa that we saw in the Rugby Championship have real vulnerabilities at half back and in the back three. The opportunity for our world class half backs Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray is to do what they do better than anyone else in the world and bombard the Springbok rearguard from the off. With a really wet day and evening in store tomorrow, this will be exactly the type of scenario that the Boks wont want to face. Okay, it wont make for the most entertaining spectacle but with an Irish back three of good high fielding footballers, it’s the percentage play and should yield dividends in re-securing the ball deep in South African territory against a disorganised defence.
The challenge for Ireland will be at least gaining set piece and breakdown parity plus staying accurate with a greasy ball in cold wet conditions. There’s not many better men than Sexton to conduct operations in that scenario and everyone will be hoping that he stays away from the Springbok loose forwards, getting through a full 80 mins unscathed.
Selection-wise, Schmidt has gone largely on experience plus form (bar the much discussed Simon Zebo non-selection). There may be a few like Leinster’s Rhys Ruddock who might feel slightly aggrieved but of all games, an arm wrestle with the Boks is a full squad effort so the bench will be emptied to get the job done.
For the younger fans tuning in, there’s a few exciting young players to keep an eye out for. On the Irish side, Ulster’s Jason Stockdale (watch his IRFU interview here) is the big emerging star right now but there are other young players like Joey Carbery, James Ryan and the uncapped Darren Sweetnam to watch out for. And, of course, all eyes will be on debutant Bundee Aki as he wears his adopted green for the first time. On the Springbok side, there’s really only one name on everyone’s lips at the moment and that is Malcolm Marx, the Lions’ electric hooker. How he fares against Rory Best could possibly be the match up of the day.
All things considered, I’m confident that Ireland can get off to a winning start for the new International season, with a 10 point win being the call.
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