The increasingly fractious atmosphere between the Ireland and South Africa bid teams for the right to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup adds an extra edge to their test match in Dublin today.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will hope his players lay into their Springboks opponents as robustly as the Irish Rugby Football Union’s CEO Philip Browne did in a letter this week to his World Rugby counterpart Brett Gosper about South Africa’s topping the technical review that puts them in pole position to carry the day in the vote nextWednesday.
Schmidt, though, says he is not going to tell the players of the significance of beating the South Africans on the pitch with regards to the vote although he appeared to relish the thought of landing a blow days ahead of the vote.
“I hadn’t thought about it and I don’t want to put any more pressure on us” said the New Zealander. “Gee, though, wouldn’t it be great to put a really good performance in and put Irish rugby in the shop window ahead of the vote?”
Schmidt, who has guided Ireland to two Six Nations titles and an historic win over New Zealand last year in Chicago in the four years he has been at the helm, has had to field question marks over including New Zealand-born centre Bundee Aki in the starting XV a month after he became eligible under residency rules.
However, 52-year-old Schmidt is unabashed about his decision to do so in a selection that sees Aki link up again with former Connacht teammate Robbie Henshaw.
“Sometimes where you are born is less relevant than where you have invested over recent years and Bundee has done that in the west for Connacht,” said Schmidt.
“He has played an immense amount of rugby for them. I feel sorry for Bundee and hope he isn’t distracted by that.”
Schmidt will hope Aki, who has experience of playing the best in the southern Hemisphere having won the 2013 Super Rugby title with the Chiefs, is fully-focused as the coach knows a repeat of the Springboks’ performance in the 25-24 defeat by the All Blacks last month would provide the Irish with a stern test.
His South Africa counterpart Allister Coetzee though has paid the Irish the ultimate compliment in where he places them in terms of northern Hemisphere rugby.
“For us [the match] is important because we have a huge respect for Ireland,” said Coetzee.
“They are a quality side, and it’s almost close to your All Blacks side in Europe.” Coetzee, who has made three changes to the starting XV that began the game against the All Blacks, is especially fearful of the outstanding halfback partnership of flyhalf Johnny Sexton and scrumhalf Conor Murray.
“The Irish have a world-class halfback pair and their set-piece play is extremely good, so it will be a great battle,” said Coetzee, who has managed to get the Springboks back to a better level than the one that limped round Europe last autumn.
“They know how to keep the ball and use a good kicking game to put teams under pressure.” Coetzee believes his side will acquit themselves much better this autumn as one major factor has improved. “I was worried about our conditioning but this time around I don’t have that sort of fear at all.” – AFP