Wednesday, November 05, 2014

IRL v SA - looking back


INTRODUCTION: 

This week I thought I’d look at the historical aspects of Ireland v South African rugby and see whether there are opportunities why this current Irish team, with the plethora of injuries and non-availabilities can’t turn over the Boks this Saturday. Oh and excuse the extremely poor pun in the title!

HISTORICAL STATS & FACTS:

Well unfortunately the stats and facts aren’t that good. Since we first played the Boks back in 1906, there have been a total of 21 games. Ireland have won 4 (more on that later), South Africa 16 and 1 drawn. We have NEVER beaten the Boks on their home turf so the mathematics out there will work out we have therefore only won 4 from 14 in Ireland, the visitors taken 9 and the single draw, 8 – 8 at Lansdowne Road in January 1970. 

Interestingly, apart from a narrow victory 9 – 6 for the Irish in April 1965 and the draw 8 – 8 the following, Ireland's successes have all been in more recent times beating South Africa 17 – 12 in November 2004, 32 – 15 the following November 2006 and a much closer 15 – 10 at Croker in November 2009. Since then it’s been 2 from 2 for the Boks against us and both losses in Dublin 21 – 23 in November 2010 and 12 – 16 2 years later.

Since the last time we played them in 2012, the South Africans have won a mighty 20 from 22 games including a rather impressive 27 – 25 victory over the All Blacks in this year’s Rugby Championship in October. This has in the main been down to a complete change in mindset for the South Africans since Heyneke Meyer took over as Head Coach in January 2012. 

For Ireland though, unfortunately it’s only been 12 wins, 6 losses and a draw. Ok, some may say that’s not a bad average and it did include the extremely poor showing at the 2013 6 Nations. It does however show the improvement under “Saint” Joe Schmidt with last season’s 6 Nations and the successful double win over Argentina on the summer tour.

RECENT GAMES:

2004 - Ireland 17-12 South Africa

Following their earlier in year Triple Crown victory, Ireland were still in fine form. Ronan O’Gara took all the points in a tight game that was close at the end but the Irish held on. This included the controversial O’Gara tap penalty and subsequent try whilst Boks Captain, Jon Smit was speaking to his players following direction from the ref. Matters not, the try stood and history shows a win!

2006 Ireland 32  S.Africa 15

Ireland scored 4 tries against the South Africans and in doing so, achieved something they had failed to do for 100 years. Probably most memorable moment in the game was Brian O’Driscolls one-handed pass to Shane Horgan to score the 4th try. This was truly a moment of sublime world class play.

2009 - Ireland 15  S.Africa 10

Well this game will be remembered for Jonny Sextons selection over Ronan O’Gara. The first time O’Gara had been out of the Irish side for some 6 years. Sexton kicked 5 from 5 as if he was a seasoned campaigner and Ireland overturned a 6 – 10 deficit at half time to come out on top 15 – 10.

2010 - Ireland 21  S.Africa 23

This game marked the start at Ireland’s future at the newly opened Aviva Stadium. We were looking for a 4 in a row series of victories against the Boks. Although a spirited effort from our boys in green with a couple of late tries from Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe but it wasn’t to be. Interesting a chap called Z. Kirchner played at 13 (yes 13) for South Africa that day? Now should I re-look at my previous post on the 10,12,13 Conundrum for Leinster

2012 - Ireland 12 S Africa 16

Unfortunately this game saw Ireland throw away a half time 12 – 3 lead with Ruan Pienaar scoring the only try of the game and South Africa coming out eventual winners 12 – 16.

Well given the rise of South Africa since Meyer took up tenure in 2012 and their 20 from 22 wins together with the strong attacking and playmaking back line that has been together and is tried and tested and has around 250 caps between them, you’d clearly have to pimp for them to absolutely run riot over even the most spirited of Irish teams.

Ireland on the other hand have some 15 regulars unavailable, let alone the burning question of who will “Saint” Joe play as the “Golden Triplets”. Perhaps he will go for 10 (Sexton), 12 (Madigan) and 13 (Payne) with Olding and Henshaw on the bench. That’s if D’Arcy is NOT fully recovered. Either way, I believe that the Irish coaching staff are looking out to RWC 15 and D’Arce may (again if fit and available) be used as an experienced father figure and appear on the bench. If he starts it will be for 50 minutes or so to steady the youngsters. I’d still go for my initial starters though. In 2004 & 2006 there were 5 of the same Backs and 5 of the Forwards in the match day 23. It’s hardly consistency over a 2 year period but it does give you a basis and that’s what we still have today with the current crop of players available. 

Anyhow, Ireland’s greatest consistency against a Southern Hemisphere team were the 3 wins against South Africa in 2004, 2006 & 2009. These were also the years that Ireland won the 6 Nations Triple Crown and in 2009 we also added the first Grand Slam since 1948 (N.B. Ireland and South Africa didn’t play each other between 1931 & 1951 so I can’t even see if that far back, there was consistency when we were Grand Slammers). 

So what does this tell us? Well when we are on a roll, we are on a roll! Are we currently on a roll so to speak? No, unfortunately not. So does that mean we write Ireland off? With the lack of regulars (As I write I see Rory Best is now out, which means potentially Sean Cronin will start though given his wonky darts and lack of hooking capability to date this season, perhaps a change will be an opportunity for Richardt Straus. I will caveat that with the fact I actually think Cronin is a great Hooker and his metres gained are an inspiration for any aspiring forward, he just needs to sort fundamentals of role and position!?!), it seems almost impossible for Ireland to take on the same match day starting 15 the South Africans overcame the invincible All Backs recently and come out on top. Wouldn’t it? 

Actually, I believe that Ireland will come out and surprise a lot of people. On paper, the power, strength and ability of the Boks front 5 should dominate Ireland however I think that Simon Easterby will have drilled the Irish forwards well and I’m excited to (hopefully) see the likes of Peter O’Mahony, Dom Ryan, Dev Toner, Paulie O’Connell, Jamie H supporting an inexperienced and untested front row. They have nothing to lose (save for the game obviously!) and everything to play for. I suspect it will be more of a tactical forwards display rather than trying to meet the Boks on pure power?

The Irish backs as well will be really up against it and as I’ve written earlier in this piece, we’re up against the Boks successful team who remember scored 3 tries in 8 minutes against Australia recently as well as turning over the All Blacks but again, new younger players, given the opportunity could upset the Boks game plan. A mix of experience with Kearney, Bowe, Zebo and Connor Murray and the “Golden Triplets” supported by able talent on the bench will offer some opportunities some might have written off already.

What is clear is on comparison, the successful Irish team against South Africa in the 2004 – 2009 periods was a team that was experienced and well versed in each other’s games but even the 2004 and 2006 teams weren’t the same, merely a core of players remained. By 2009, it was a new breed. Only 6 remained from the 2006 match day 23. This Irish team depleted by injury will simply allow Joe Schmidt and his staff to look at different perspectives as he builds up towards the 6 Nations and RWC 15, given that we cannot rely on any individual being available, though we’d be pretty unlucky if we had this continuing run of injuries etc. Few fans I suspect will therefore hold out a realistic hope of an historic Irish win.

I believe that this Ireland team is a developing one and despite the injuries, new positions and everything else, they will produce a display that we all, coaching staff, players and fans alike will be happy as part of the building process towards RWC 15. Ultimately though, I believe the Springboks will come out slightly on top.

@bigjoeshep is the Owner and Head of Information & Knowledge Management atDigital Knowledge Zone.   An avid Leinster & Ireland Rugby fan, he came to rugby at the late age of 24, was a tight head prop, had at least 2 good runs in every game and retired at only 36 after 3 operations on his legs and now forms the 4th "virtual" person in a front row each time his beloved teams are playing (much to the annoyance of his suffering girlfriend who has to put up with being "embraced" by the Big Fella at each scrum!!!)
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