Now it just so happens that most of the changes for this match which have been called for by the group I lovingly call “Schmidt Stirrers” involve Ulster players...as well as the Payne switch there was “He HAS to start Jackson over Sexton”, “He HAS to involve Marshall/Gilroy”, etc, etc...but don’t think for a second I think this body of opinion lies merely in the northern province.
It’s coming from pretty much anywhere that isn’t Leinster, and while not all of it reaches the Donald Trump-esque extremes of George Hook, the severity and the personal nature of the criticism never ceases to amaze me given factors like the amount of injuries we’ve had, the remit of filling the void left by not one but two Lions captains and what was the third one again? Oh yeah...back to back Six Nations titles.
Of course now you’re probably thinking I feel like Joe is some kind of Messiah who must not be questioned. Hopefully my piece from March of this year titled “Let Schmidt Be Schmidt” proves otherwise. Basically I feel that now that he has been at the test game for a few years, it’s time to release the shackles and get his style of play closer to that which got him the success at Leinster in the first place.
And while the move of Payne to 15 only came about because of injuries to others, I still feel it could be a sign that some kind of change could be in the wind. He might have gone several other ways at full back (for example BOD suggested Olding...this would have been brave in one respect but it would have also shown a continuing degree of stubbornness in relation to Payne at outside centre).
Then we have Jordi Murphy at openside flanker, a choice that raised many an eyebrow. One of the benefits (and also curses) of blogging is that you can play around with conspiracy theories in your articles a lot more readily than the mainstream journos, and I reckon that once Josh van der Flier was ruled out of contention, the Irish coaching staff had to come up with a plan for the Springboks and determined that Jordi was the answer.
My “tin-foil hat” theory goes on to suggest that the word was put out to Leo Cullen that Murphy was to wear 7 for the remainder of the season to see if he was able for this supposed Bok-specific challenge. While Jordi hadn’t been in the best of form this season, he did appear to be knuckling down to this particular challenge in the final three matches of Leinster’s campaign, finding himself at or at least near the top of the tackling charts each time.
And we can’t mention tackling and defence without also referring to Andy Farrell who takes his place in the Irish coach’s box for the first time. If there is a Jordi Plan, was it his idea? Maybe. But it will definitely be interesting to see the overall shape of our defence on Saturday, with particular attention to how we spread out from the breakdown.
Then we have Paddy Jackson. While he didn’t replicate the form against Leinster at the RDS he showed at the Kingspan, there is no doubt he is the right man in our squad to step in when Sexton is absent. It’s just up to himself to settle into his role quickly because there will be no time for honeymoon periods in Cape Town.
As for the Springboks themselves, yes, they have a new coaching ticket as well as new squad-selection rules but we’ve seen enough of them over the years to know this probably isn’t going to affect them too much, and all around the park they have the ability to hurt us from the word go.
When it comes to individual battles, I can think of none more interesting than that in the second row. Etzebeth/De Jager v Henderson/Toner … there’s a whole lot of contrasting abilities at different facets of lock play rolled up in that quartet and I certainly wouldn’t assume the home pairing is going to hold sway.
So how can we call it? It’s almost impossible to tell. The bookies have the Boks by 15 points...I sincerely hope this would have been a lot less with the likes of Sexton, O’Brien and O’Mahony available but I still think it’s a bit steep.
I firmly believe we can win this one, but I’m afraid my official prediction has to go to the home side, by about 6-8pts. If we can get over the travelling and the occasion and settle quickly into whatever plans the coaching staff have actually laid out, I reckon we can make life very difficult for Allister Coetzee & co. And if we’re going to nick just the one test on this tour, it probably needs to be this one.
Here’s to a performance and result that we can be proud of and one that might even get more Irish fans behind this coaching ticket. Probably asking for too much there? ;-) JLP
#COYBIG #ShoulderToShoulder #FourProudProvinces
SOUTH AFRICA : 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Faf de Klerk
1 Tendai Mtawarira, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 3 Frans Malherbe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Lood de Jager, 6 Francois Louw, 7 Siya Kolisi, 8 Duane Vermeulen,
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Jesse Kriel
Castle Lager Incoming Series, First Test
Saturday, 11 June, 2016 KO 4pm (Irish time)
Live on Sky Sports
DHL Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
Ref: Mathieu Raynal (FFR)
AR1: Angus Gardner (ARU)
AR2: Matthew Carley (RFU)
TMO: Jim Yuille (SRU)
PS - Best wishes also to the other Irish rugby teams in action on Saturday … the Under 20s who face New Zealand (kickoff 1:30pm), the Women’s 7s out in Kazan in the European Grand Prix series - they’re in a pool with Italy (9:28am) Belgium (12:12pm) and Russia (3:20pm) – and the Men’s 7s in Malmo they play Latvia (10am), Israel (1:07pm) and Monaco (3:52pm) - all times are Irish and we’ll confirm on social media if any or all of the 7s are to be streamed live.