Sport24 asked: You visited South Africa 12 years ago as a player. What’s it like to be back?
Alan Quinlan: It’s brilliant to be back in South Africa. It’s a fantastic country and we know how passionate people are about their rugby here. I first toured the country as a player in 2004, and have now returned as a Sky Sports commentator, which is a different experience. 12 years ago we were quite confident of getting a first Test win on South African soil, as we came off the back of winning the Triple Crown and beating then world champions, England. However, we came up against a brilliant Springbok team littered with legends of the game.
Sport24 asked: Ireland made history last Saturday in Cape Town. Your view on the match?
Alan Quinlan: The victory at Newlands was a massive boost for Irish rugby at the end of a long season. It was a huge positive to win with 14 men for close to three quarters of the fixture. Ireland had no choice but to try and turn the Springboks around, defend for their lives and force mistakes. Allister Coetzee is a brilliant bloke, but it was frustrating to hear him say post-match that Ireland didn’t play any rugby. It’s unfair because Ireland played smart rugby and were tactically astute. The visitors varied their game and point of attack very well and defended heroically. I don’t blame Ireland for kicking as much as they did. It was very difficult off some slower rucks because there was a line of Springboks waiting for them. Many of the Irish players enhanced their reputations, stood up physically to the challenge and were effective at the breakdown. Ireland hung in for that ten minute period before half-time, and after the break they came out and started the second half brilliantly. Flyhalf Paddy Jackson stepped up and played really well, Jared Payne was outstanding in the fullback berth and Conor Murray underlined his credentials as probably one of the best scrumhalves in the world. His all-round game was just incredible to witness and the amount of cover tackles he put in behind the defensive line was second to none. Meanwhile, forwards Jamie Heaslip and Man of the Match, Devin Toner stood tall against South Africa.
Sport24 asked: What effect has Joe Schmidt had on Irish rugby since showing up in 2010?
Alan Quinlan: He has enjoyed incredible success winning two Heineken Cups with Leinster, a couple Pro12 crowns, a European Challenge Cup and back-to-back Six Nations titles. Schmidt brings real expertise in terms of coaching, an attention to detail and a strategy that can be changed. Off the back of the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the 2016 Six Nations campaign, Schmidt came in for some criticism owing to Ireland’s approach being quite pragmatic and the fact that they often applied boot to ball. They are quite direct and maybe not as expansive as people would like but, as a former player, that never bothered if we were winning. The New Zealander is a very intelligent coach and what he has already achieved with this touring group is incredible. I believe he has instilled a winning mentality.
Sport24 asked: Rassie Erasmus has signed a three-year contract with Munster. Your take?
Alan Quinlan: The acquisition of Erasmus is a real coup for Munster because I know that there were a number of suitors for his signature. Erasmus boasts a brilliant CV and is a very exciting coach. There is no doubt that Munster is going through a tough period. When I played for the club we had an aura, but in the last few years visiting teams have started to win at Thomond Park and generate more belief. I believe Erasmus, along with defence coach Jacques Nienaber, will bring plenty of energy and new ideas. And, for me, the former’s reputation for developing young players is exactly what the club needs at this very moment.
Sport24 asked: As impressive as Ireland were, do you agree that the Boks were below par?
Alan Quinlan: The Springboks played poorly by their own admission, and it was probably the best opportunity to beat them because they were under-prepared and under-cooked. You can do all the training in the world, but playing matches together ultimately makes the difference. A mitigating factor is that the Boks have had limited time together as a new group. If we examine the centre partnership of Damian de Allende and Lionel Mapoe, for argument’s sake, they hadn’t played together for their country before the first Test. Mapoe has been incredible for the Lions in Super Rugby and has made so many metres, but it takes time for new combinations to gel. I’m aware that there is a huge amount of pressure on the Springboks to win because there is an expectation that they should take every Test. There was a fair bit of anger and disappointment after South Africa’s first defeat to Ireland on home soil. I’d urge the public to be patient because, like Ireland, this is a team in transition.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess the strength of the Springboks at the present time?
Alan Quinlan: There is no doubt that the Springboks are a little bit more vulnerable because they have a lot of young players within their set-up and are going through a huge amount of change. Ireland have been very respectable and haven’t got carried away by their victory. Coetzee’s charges will certainly be better this weekend on the back of that disappointment. In modern day sport, the intrigue of how to perform away from home is important. It’s about absolutely respecting the southern hemisphere powerhouses but, at the same time, having a belief and confidence that if you get yourself right on the day, you have a chance. I don’t believe the Springboks have lost their fearsome aura. The big failure that northern hemisphere teams have had is winning on southern hemisphere soil – that has always been the big challenge – but mentally they have become stronger and the gap is starting to close.
Sport24 asked: What approach do you see the Springboks employing in the second Test?
Alan Quinlan: I would expect the Springboks to kick much more this weekend. Test rugby is akin to Cup rugby in that you try to force the opposition backwards and play in the right areas of the field. Of course, you can be expansive if your first and second phases are really clinical, you generate quick ball and it’s on to move it in your own 22. However, at Test level, a more traditional kicking game sometimes has to be adopted. Ireland will have to find a new strategy for the second Test because I believe it will be a very aggressive and determined approach from the hosts. I certainly expect a backlash at Ellis Park on Saturday. In the first Test, the Springboks got caught between two playing styles – their traditional strengths of dominating the collisions and being really direct versus trying to go wide. You can have plenty of possession in your own half, however, if you are not building enough phases and executing in the right areas of the field then it counts for nought. The Springboks will be a different beast on Saturday and will aim to strike a better balance. Flyhalf Elton Jantjies is going to be the pivotal man for the hosts and, if he makes good decisions as far as when to move the ball and when to kick, there’s no reason South Africa can’t be successful.
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