When Joe Schmidt took charge of the national team the primary lament from most was that he will have merely two Six Nations and a Guinness Series to get to know his squad. Not an ideal amount of time or experience to get a proper handle on his players and put his stamp on things firmly. 9 months and an All Blacks near miss later, he guides the team to a Six Nations trophy. Now with the second ranked team in the world coming to Dublin on Saturday, you would have to wonder if maybe we were worrying over nothing. After eighty minutes are up tomorrow, Joe Schmidt will have more answers than he has until this point.
The first of these answers – the one that is causing all of the chatter – will hopefully be who is next to wear the Ireland 13. Schmidt has gone with Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne in the centre and openly noted that the two will be interchangeable. He is of the opinion, as some others are too, that 12 and 13 can be interchangeable positions, and I can’t help but agree. With war horses like Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy this could never be the case but sheer legacy was to blame there. Of all the positions on a rugby pitch, centre is the one you are least born in to. Quite simply, you have a tonne of work to do. Whilst I would put myself in the camp of Payne being a full back first and foremost, we don’t stand much of a risk that South Africa will hammer us out the gate tomorrow, so why not try combinations for the future in games where competitiveness is a guarantee.
Many will see the Georgia game in a weeks time as the place for experimentation but that is of no use with the World Cup less than a year away. When so much money, TV and publicity revolves around it (pro rugby and the drawbacks) it may seem crazy to risk a defeat in the effort to build but it won’t be long to wait for the pay off. Elsewhere on the pitch all eyes will fall on the pack. Mike Ross was a fitness doubt at tighthead earlier in the week but seems to have come through. Along with Jack McGrath’s current form these two could be more crucial to Ireland’s chances than ever before. Up against the formidable front row of Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira, Jannie Du Plessis and Bismarck Du Plessis they will have their work more than cut out for them, but if they and the rest of the pack can nullify the scrum Ireland will stand their best chance. South Africa have some dynamic backs, Bryan Habana needs zero introduction at this stage, but without quick ball they will be having a relatively quiet night.
Cast your mind back to 2009, when Ireland went unbeaten for the calendar year and beating South Africa were the final hurdle in that achievement. On a fog drenched night in Croke Park they kept the game tight, fronted up to the Boks and from 1 to 15 hit hard. Brian O’Driscoll notched up one of the hardest tackles of his career in that game. You just need to bring the fight to them. Paul O’Connell has spoken this week about not needing to be perfect to beat them, Ireland simply need to keep on top of mistakes. The return fixture to that fog fury in 2011 saw Ireland fall to an error strewn performance and not capitalising on the South African mistakes in the mean time. They play a tough game, but not one that cannot be cracked. Between the experience of O’Connell, Jonathan Sexton, Tommy Bowe and more as well as the analytical mind of Joe Schmidt there is little reason to believe that Ireland – even with 17 front line players injured – can’t get the job done.
Just cross every finger available that an Irish player doesn’t go down injured anytime before sixty minutes at least.
Ireland XV to face South Africa:
15 – Rob Kearney, 14 – Tommy Bowe, 13 – Jared Payne, 12 – Robbie Henshaw, 11 – Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 – Connor Murray, 1 – Jack McGrath, 2 – Sean Cronin, 3 – Mike Ross, 4 – Devin Toner, 5 – Paul O’Connell, 6 – Peter O’Mahony, 7 – Chris Henry, 8 – Jamie Heaslip
16 – Richardt Strauss, 17 – Dave Kilcoyne, 18 – Rodney Ah You, 19 – Mike McCarthy, 20 – Rhys Ruddock, 21 – Eoin Reddan, 22 – Ian Madigan, 23 – Felix Jones
Dual blogged on Irish News Review
Image courtesy of zimbio.com