Icing the Irish

2009-11-28 00:00

THE Springboks are desperate to add the icing to a memorable year when they take on the Irish in front of a passionate crowd at Croke Park in Dublin this afternoon.

The Boks, following their triumphs in both the Tri-Nations and British Lions series during the winter, have struggled on their European tour and need to offset the Toulouse defeat by France with victory over the Six Nations champions today to return home with their heads high.

The South Africans, with Paul Treu’s Sevens squad and the Bulls added to the mix, hold just about every trophy in world rugby at present and they are expected to be named team of the year at the IRB dinner tonight. But flyhalf Morne Steyn, pivotal to the success of both the Boks and the Bulls, concedes that defeat by Ireland would remove some of the season’s glitter.

“It’s been an awesome year, but we just want to end it on a high note. Losing to Ireland would make us forget about the great year and we’d only remember the loss. We have to go out on a high,” he said on the eve of the Test.

It will be a massive challenge, both for the Boks and Steyn, in unfamiliar surrounds and in the most testing conditions. Croke Park — home of Gaelic sport in Dublin — is a yawning stadium, but it will be packed by 82 000 Irish fans screaming for their team to take chunks out of the nasty world champions who bullied and eye-gouged their players during the British Lions tour.

The Boks, in seeking out territory and points, rely on the boot of Steyn and, in kicking at goal and out of hand, he will be tested by the strong wind which has been buffeting Dublin this week.

It promises to be the most bruising of Tests, coming at the end of a long year for the Springboks. The feisty Irish, primed and pointed at the South Africans, are determined to follow the French example and have talked all week of physically matching and then dispatching the Boks.

But Bok coach Peter de Villiers appears to have chosen soundly and papered over most of the cracks that have appeared on tour. Wynand Olivier, in for Adi Jacobs at centre, should beef up the midfield defence against O’Driscoll and company, while Danie Rossouw, who has taken over from number eight Ryan Kan­kowski, will add power and muscle to the forward exchanges. The Boks are also hoping that the fetching ability of Heinrich Brussow and Schalk Burger will frustrate the Irish, who have opted for three ball-carrying loose forwards, at the breakdown.

But all eyes will be on the revamped front-row of Beast Mtawarira, John Smit and BJ Botha as the Boks seek a solid forward platform and early momentum.

Bok lock Victor Matfield said yesterday that their failures against France are still haunting the players.

“We need to bring our physical game to the Irish game and commit enough men to the breakdowns. We’ll need to be at our best to beat a quality Irish side.”

The Irish hope to catch tired Bok forwards on the hop to allow their backs, led by Brian O’Driscoll, the space and possession to expose the Boks’ defences.

It will be hard and close. The Boks have the finishing line in a marathon season in sight, but they will need one mighty final surge if they are to blunt Irish spirit, silence their crowd and end a glorious season in style.

TEAMS

Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O’Driscoll (c), 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Tomas O’Leary, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Cian Healy.

Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Leo Cullen, 19 Sean O’Brien, 20 Peter Stringer, 21 Ronan O’Gara, 22 Gordon D’Arcy.

Springboks – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Danie Rossouw, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 BJ Botha, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Dewald Potgieter, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Jean de Villiers.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).

On TV

 

Kickoff: 4.30 pm – live on M NET and SuperSport 1 from 4 pm

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