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All the pressure will be on the Springboks as Ireland kick off their three-Test tour of South Africa at Newlands on Saturday.
Ireland have never beaten the Boks on South African soil – in seven attempts – but there is no danger of new coach Allister Coetzee expecting an easy win in his first Test at the helm.
And for good reason. Ireland, although weakened by the absence of a few star players, are still the team that outsmarted and outplayed the touring Boks in Dublin the last time these teams clashed, in 2014.
In Kiwi head coach Joe Schmidt, Ireland have one of the craftiest operators in the world game. With massive expectation weighing on the home side to launch a new era in style, there is plenty of room to slip up.
Modern rugby works in four-year cycles and Saturday represents the start of what is potentially a pivotal period in South African rugby.
A long trophy drought, increasing political pressure to field a ‘transformed’ team, a player-drain crisis and an expectant public that is demanding a more entertaining brand of rugby from the national side all combine to make Coetzee’s era a crossroads for the direction the Springboks could take.
So far, so good for the ex-Stormers coach whose selections have largely been greeted with satisfaction. But Coetzee will be acutely aware of how quickly the knives will come out if things go badly this weekend.
On paper, the Springbok should have the firepower up front to lay the platform for what has the potential to be a very exciting attack featuring some fresh blood.
But it won’t come easily. In the likes of Iain Henderson in the second row, Ireland have the ability to compete not only physically but to disrupt the all-important Bok set piece. In Robbie Henshaw they have one of the most exciting runners in Europe and his shift from inside to outside centre should also give him more room to display his offloading skills.
Don’t expect anything flash from the home side early on. They will look to their locks and big ball carriers to set the tone physically before the relatively inexperienced backs are given room to roam.
Schmidt has already hinted that they may looks to turn the Boks around with kicks in behind the defence, in similar fashion to that win in 2014 and the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final. It’s in these situations that the hosts cannot afford to make mistakes.
How the result is achieved will be far less important for Coetzee than the result itself. Victory must come at all costs and it is that pressure that Ireland will look to prey upon.
The last time these teams met: Rhys Ruddock and Tommy Bowe both scored as Ireland put on a tactical masterclass to win 29-15 at the Aviva Stadium in 2014. The Springboks were behind 13-3 in the second half but Marcell Coetzee went over for a try to narrow the gap to just three points. But any hopes of a comeback went out the window when Adriaan Strauss received a yellow card for tackling the airborne Rob Kearney. Springbok paceman JP Pietersen went over for a consolation try in the 80th minute but Bowe’s score and Johnny Sexton’s 16 points saw Ireland to a fully-merited victory. Sexton executed some brilliant kicks behind the South African defensive line to keep the visitors constantly on the back foot and the hosts had clearly done their homework to neutralise the Bok rolling maul.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Ireland: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Mike Ross, Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Finlay Bealham, 18 Tadgh Furlong, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Craig Gilroy.