Allister Coetzee’s Springboks in the last two years have never beaten a higher ranked team. Victory against the Irish in Dublin would be a Springbok coaching career high for Coetzee because Ireland currently are ranked fourth and the Springboks start the tour ranked fifth.
The margins are fine in professional sport. It’s a tired old line but it’s worth repeating because Coetzee would argue things could so easily have read differently with a bit of good fortune against the Wallabies in both draws. The Wallabies could argue the same thing.
The one point defeat against the All Blacks in Cape Town also needs perspective. It was an eight point game with three minutes to play and the Boks scored to make it a one point game with a minute to play. In that minute they got the ball and kept it for two minutes but advanced from their own 10 metre line to the halfway line before turning over the ball.
For all the emotion and feeling that the Cape Town Test restored pride and respect the Springboks did not win it and were chasing the game in the last 10 minutes.
Newlands was filled to capacity and those players humiliated 57-0 in Albany, New Zealand, grew that extra arm, leg and whatever else South African players do grow when they are playing at home and given the on-field chance to apologise for embarrassment and failure.
Former Irish centre Gordon D’Arcy, writing in the Irish Times, praised a ‘highly emotive performance that seems unlikely to be replicated on a cold November evening in Dublin’.
D’Arcy, in calling an Ireland win against the Springboks, said the Boks had returned to their most cherished value of physicality against the All Blacks in Cape Town, but it still wasn’t enough to beat the world champions.
D’Arcy wrote the crucial difference was that the All Blacks sought space over contact and that when they did seek contact it was with the intention of creating space.
He questioned whether the Springboks had the ability to unlock Ireland’s defence with more than physicality.
No one doubts the Springboks will physically front and be capable in the collisions, but do they have the attacking arsenal to beat Ireland in Dublin?
I don’t think they do.
I hope my pessimism is misplaced and the Springboks sparkle up north and dazzle friend and foe with attacking wizardry and intelligent attack.
Most of all I so want the Springboks to hammer Ireland in a week when Ireland’s administration has acted in the most despicable way in relation to South Africa’s 2023 Rugby World Cup host recommendation.
If ever there was a Saturday for the Springboks to produce a performance out of the ordinary, I’d want it for this Saturday in Dublin.
Hell, I’d even take a one point win.
But I just don’t see it happening because currently I think Ireland, at home, are better than the Springboks away from home.
The probability, at least for me, of an Irish win has more to do with the quality of the Irish coaching staff and their senior players, most notably halfbacks Connor Murray and Jonny Sexton and flanker Sean O’Brien.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is a master tactician who so nearly masterminded a first ever Irish series win against the Springboks in South Africa with an understrength squad.
Schmidt ranks in the top three coaches in the world and Ireland at home are among the best teams in the world.
Victory for the Springboks would represent the most significant result in Coetzee’s tenure as Springbok coach. Coetzee in 2016 won four from 12. In 2017 his Springboks are five from nine. The margins are fine!
Defeat will leave him with nine from 22 and just one home win (against Australia in South Africa in 2016) against a team currently ranked higher.
For all the talk of improvements among the Springboks in 2017, results determine rankings and results determine employment.
The Springboks, in the last four matches of the Rugby Championship, did not get those results. Coetzee has been mocked for making the wrong kind of history since he lost his opening match against Ireland in Cape Town.
That result was a shock because of the weakened nature of the Irish side due to injuries and unavailability.
Dublin is different because it’s a stronger Ireland, improved because of Sexton’s presence, and it’s not necessarily a stronger Springbok team.
I’d love for Dublin to be about resurrection and redemption for Coetzee but at best I envisage the Boks getting respect for their performance but not the result.
The bookies are insistent it will be an Irish win, so for South Africans unconditional in their support of the Springboks it will be a day of cash or crash.
Hope for the former but prepare for the latter.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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