Ireland shrug off Boks’ 7/1 split as tension ramps up for Le Crunch in Paris
Rugby World Cup 2023 will move up a gear this weekend when the Springboks and Ireland clash in Saint Denis.
Ireland No 8 Caelan Doris gave a shrug of the shoulders at the news that the Springboks had picked seven forwards in an enlarged Bomb Squad for Saturday’s Pool B showdown at Stade de France.
Asked for his immediate reaction to the Boks’ 7/1 split, Doris, who was part of the Ireland team that beat the Boks 19-16 in Dublin in 2022, seemed nonplussed.
“Physicality is the word that springs to mind,” Doris said. “It is not just their size, it is the way they play. They are very direct off No 9. They will sometimes have two or three players latched on to a carrier and try to drive them over the gainline.
“It is the way they maul. The way they aggressively go after the ruck. It is partly their size and their actual physicality but then partly the mindset and the way they play that comes with that.
“Getting those areas right is going to be big for us. That week in Dublin last November we took a step up and we know we require the same this week. If we match them there, we’ve a lot of belief in what we can do in terms of our attack. We have multiple threats. Hopefully defences find that a little bit intimidating.”
The Boks’ tactic comes with obvious risks if the backline is depleted early on through injury or foul play and cards, but it’s clear that the controversial selection is not purely about winning collisions.
Bok coach Jacques Nienaber has signalled that he sees the breakdown as a crucial battleground. With breakdown specialists Deon Fourie, Marco van Staden and Kwagga Smith on the bench, the Boks are clearly going to target turnovers and counterattacks.
Ireland will be under pressure to control their possession. The Bok selection is daring them to attack and take their chances. It’s a risk/reward strategy for Ireland as well.
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The Boks used the 7/1 split against the All Blacks last month at Twickenham, and it paid off handsomely as they won 35-7. It was clearly a trial run for a moment such as this.
“We analysed Ireland and after looking at them and what they bring and what we think we will need in this specific game from a tactical point of view and trying to counter everything they do – that’s the reason we went with seven-one,” Nienaber explained without being specific.
When we talk about our front-rowers, we don’t talk about first choice or second choice. It doesn’t necessarily work like that in our team.
“I don’t think necessarily Ireland and New Zealand are similar in how they do things. It’s for this specific game.
“The ‘bomb squad’ that came on against Scotland also had a big impact. That’s what we want. I don’t call them finishers or stuff like that. The guys that start and guys who come off the bench have a role to fulfil.
“That’s why when we talk about our front-rowers, we don’t talk about first choice or second choice. It doesn’t necessarily work like that in our team.
“The guys who start have a specific role to perform and the moment we see that being achieved, we bring the other guys off the bench.”
Ireland question Boks’ scrumming technique
On the subject of front-rowers, Ireland scrum coach John Fogarty has already fired a plea via the media that referee Ben O’Keeffe keeps an eye on the Boks’ scrumming technique. Fogarty, in a roundabout way, questioned the legality of the Boks’ set piece, especially when it came to stability before the ball is fed into the scrum.
“They’re a very big side, so they want to use weight and power and strength early in the scrum to cause as much damage as possible,” Fogarty said.
We understand the South African scrum, the power that’s in there and we have our plan.
“That’s evident in how they scrummage. Stability is something that World Rugby and the referees have talked about hugely. Before the ball comes in, there should be a stable scrum.
“For us as a group to understand South Africa, and for the referee to make sure he’s managing that piece, it will be interesting. It’s going to be a huge part of the game.
“We understand the South African scrum, the power that’s in there and we have our plan. We’ll look to impose our game for the 80 minutes.”
Deserving No 1
Nienaber would not be drawn on tactics and demurred from discussing Ireland in depth, other than to praise their rise to No 1 in the world, which has seen them win 15 Tests in a row.
“Obviously people look at our bench and say it’s a risk, but for us it’s a calculated risk,” Nienaber said. “There are guys on that bench who cover various positions, but that is not something I’d like to go into too much because it is probably more tactical.
“I don’t want to talk too much about tactics. We have a lot of versatility in the squad and we showed that on the weekend by playing four nines [scrumhalves]. But we are comfortable with the risk we are taking.
“Ireland are the No 1 team in the world, they are a quality outfit. We don’t think there are a lot of weaknesses in their game and, as they’ve mentioned, this is probably one of the games you want to play in – the No 1 in the world playing the world champions.
That’s the exciting part, to see if our plans will work against them. Will we be able to handle the pressure they put us under?
“If you look at Ireland’s team and their consistency of performance, there has not been a lot of weakness over the past few months. We expect a proper Test match of the calibre of the No 1 and 2 teams playing against each other.
“If you look at their squad versus our squad, you’re probably going to find that they have a very experienced squad, probably between 29 or 30 years of age. We’re probably between 29 and 30 years of age.
“If you look at the amount of test cap experience we have on average per player, it will probably be between 40 and 45. If they select the guys that we think they’re going to select, it will also be around about 40 or 45.
“It’s going to be a clash of two teams that have good experience; good, cool, calm heads. They will be similar in the amount of guys that are over 30, so I think it’s two squads that will be very well matched on the day.
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“That’s the exciting part, to see if our plans will work against them. Will we be able to handle the pressure they put us under? There will be ebbs and flows in the game. Will they be able to handle the pressure that’s on them? Because at the end of the day this is an important game for both teams.
“It’s only the third game of the pool, but if Ireland slip up in this game, their Scotland game becomes massive. (If) we slip against them in this game, our Tonga game becomes massive.
“So, there will be pressure in this game. It’s exciting to see how the players will handle it.” DM