Irish-Boks on collision course

Alan Solomons (Getty Images)
Alan Solomons (Getty Images)

Ireland may have pinned themselves as the underdogs for Saturday’s Test, but let’s make no bones about it,the fifth-ranked side in world rugby are never an easy proposition at the Aviva Stadium.

The reigning Six Nations champions are a pretty settled side now, with Joe Schmidt into his second season as head coach. While I’ve never worked with Schmidt, I’m aware that he enjoyed success at Leinster and it’s clear that his coaching philosophy has been embraced within the national setup.

I’m currently in Northern Ireland, and while the weather has turned a bit colder this week, we have experienced an unseasonably warm autumn. Much is often said and written about the cold and wet conditions offering the northern hemisphere sides an advantage, but I believe the Springboks are versatile.

Having served as assistant coach for the World XV against the Springboks in June, it’s evident that over the course of the season, they latter have added a number of strings to their bow in the way that they play.

Heyneke Meyer’s charges boast the ability to play the oval game in a number of ways, and as an all-round team, I think they have developed tremendously, particularly over the Rugby Championship.

I believe that Handre Pollard has been part and parcel of South Africa growing their game. There is no doubt that Pollard has added an extra dimension on attack for the men in green and gold.

Pollard is a young man with tremendous potential. From a physical standpoint, he is big and strong and prepared to take the ball to the line. The 20-year-old also possesses sound distribution skills.

His match-up with opposite number Jonathan Sexton is set to prove an intriguing subplot on Saturday. Both are outstanding rugby players but at very different stages of their development.

Sexton, 29, is the more established flyhalf, with close to a decade more experience than Pollard.

The former has played a lot more international rugby and proved a key figure for the successful 2013 British & Irish Lions side.

However, Pollard proved against the All Blacks that he is in possession of big match temperament.

While Pollard will be crucial in terms of offering the Springbok backline purpose and direction, I believe that the Boks will have to target Ireland upfront in order to establish dominance.

The Springboks possess a solid pack, which is led by the irrepressible Duane Vermeulen. He is right up there with the best eighthmen in world rugby and was immense during the Rugby Championship.

What makes a massive difference in deciding a match’s outcome is which side wins the collisions.

Offensively, if you win the collisions and get in-behind the opposition, as a consequence, the breakdown becomes easier. And, in turn, defensively, if you knock the attacking side back it becomes more difficult for them to prosper at the tackle contest.

As such, the ball carriage will be vital and the momentum generated through the carriage will prove critical.

As a sidebar, Romain Poite will referee the Lansdowne Road Test, and I don’t see his appointment having an impact on the game.

In my book, he is a top-flight, quality referee – last year he refereed us against Gloucester in the Heineken Cup and I thought he was outstanding.

Like all professional sides, the Springboks would have done their homework on the referee in question and, by now, will be aware of the areas the Frenchman places emphasis on.

I’m predicting a very tight Test match, but believe that the physical firepower which the Springboks possess upfront will ultimately sway the result in their favour.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. Having served as the Kings’ director of rugby, Solomons is now the head coach of Edinburgh.

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