Breakdown battle holds key to beating Ireland, says Kolisi

Siya Kolisi leads his troops at their final training session ahead of Saturday's Test against Ireland at Loftus.
Siya Kolisi leads his troops at their final training session ahead of Saturday's Test against Ireland at Loftus.
Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images

Springbok captain Siya Kolisi said winning the breakdown exchanges would be vital if his side were to halt a run of three defeats against Ireland in the first Test at Loftus on Saturday. 

In what will be his side’s first Test since they claimed a second consecutive world title in France last October, Kolisis also explained how thrilling it is to play in front of a home crowd once more. 

“To be able to come home and play for the people and the country who we have been playing for all along is very special,” Kolisi said on Friday.

However the Bok skipper is fully aware of the challenge that awaits his team, given Ireland’s recent record against them, which included a 13-8 defeat in the last encounter between the sides in the pool stages of the World Cup last year.

“Ireland are the one team we haven’t been able to beat in a while, so it’s a big Test, and they are a side that have been doing very well in the last few years.”

Focusing on the breakdowns — an area Ireland have held the ascendancy in over the last few years — Kolisi said: “The breakdowns will be one of the big battles tomorrow. In the World Cup we conceded a few penalties there, and we know that if they get quick ball, they’ll be dangerous.

“From our point of view though, the system protects us, but we must also bring the individual skills that we each offer the team. In general, we need to be sharp, get to the breakdowns and advantage line quickly, and make good decisions. We also have to be clinical and physical.”

It was a point reiterated by assistant coach Mzwandile Stick. “The reality is that against a team like Ireland you’ll probably get five chances or so and you must use them to come out on top.” Kolisi was criticised by the owner of Racing 92, the club he plays for in France about his fitness and work rate, but said being back in the Bok fold had made it easier to leave Jacky Lorenzetti’s words in the past. Lorenzetti said Kolisi had gained weight, lost form and was “invisible” in his outings for the French club.

“I feel good and strong, and with the new coaching staff I’m learning new things again,” said Kolisi.

“It feels different when one is in the Springbok squad, especially if one looks at the level of detail within the coaching staff and the mentality of the group, and that is something we’ll never take for granted.

“It’s not easy (being the captain), but neither is it hard,” said Kolisi. “It’s a huge honour.

“That said, each player in the team has a role to play and it’s an honour for us all to represent our country. As coach Rassie (Erasmus) said earlier in the week, the captaincy is not a big thing for this group, what we care about most is what happens on the field.”

Ireland skipper Peter O’ Mahony said on Friday that despite the Boks including Tony Brown on the coaching staff, to help them be more creative on attack, he doesn’t expect them to shift from their historic gameplan, based around physical dominance. 

“We had a look at what they did against Wales, but it’s only one Test, so it’s hard to predict what’s coming,” said O’Mahony. “But I don’t think they will go away from what they are incredibly good at. They are world champions for a reason, the base for their game won’t change.” 

With two of the last three Tests with Ireland played in Dublin and last year’s World Cup tie in Paris feeling like a home match for the Irish given the enormous support they had at the Stade de France, Kolisi is desperate to make home ground advantage count on Saturday.

“This is the first time this specific group of players will face Ireland (with some of the newer players in the squad), and we haven’t beaten them since 2016. It’s also the first time we play on home soil, so we are really looking forward to the occasion,” he said.


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