The thing about test rugby is that no matter how good you are at your position, you can never be guaranteed a rake of caps. Simply not possible. At club level you can always find somewhere else to ply your trade but there are only 15 starting national jerseys available at any given time and if someone else is ahead of you in the pecking order, that’s just how it is.
Eoin Reddan announced his retirement yesterday, and his contribution to the game wherever he went will not be forgotten. He won Heineken Cups at two different clubs, yet at test level he just never got the break needed either side of the Stringer/ROG and Murray/Sexton eras.
But that shouldn’t take from his contribution to both Leinster and Ireland rugby over the years, and this Saturday could see one of his most important contributions ever.
Assuming things don’t reach the proportions of the Hamilton Horror Show of 2012, this will have been a beneficial series for Ireland in South Africa even with defeat in Port Elizabeth. The win on foreign soil will have been achieved, thus leaving our ranking points in good stead.
Then we must take into account the ever-growing injury list. Remember...in an ideal world we all know Joe Schmidt wants Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne in the centre, and while both did well despite an increase in the numbers on their backs, they are both out of the equation now. On top of Sexton, O’Brien, O’Mahony, Bowe...it’s a pretty safe bet that this is not the team Joe would have picked.
Of course we also can’t forget just what a ridiculously long campaign this has been. When South Africa went out of the World Cup at the semifinal stage, it was the end of their season. For our players, it was only just beginning, and it’s only ending now. I’d call that a freakishly long amount of time only that it is out-freaked by the Top14 season which only concludes tonight and is the same whether there’s a World Cup or not.
Strangely the bookies are more confident about Ireland’s chances than they were for the last two tests. Each time they predicted double-digit defeats for us and now they think we’ll go down by “just” the 8. Unfortunately my official forecasts go the other way...I thought tests 1 & 2 would have bigger defeats yet this one I fear could see us fall short by 10-12.
But that’s my “official” prediction, based on the factors I outlined above - not ideal team, long season, etc. I still firmly believe we CAN win, though it will take a complete 80-minute effort from the complete 23-man squad.
Starting in the centre we have Messrs Olding & Marshall, both of whom have had game time on this tour and you can be sure Joe & Andy will have them all ready and fired up for their specific roles. There’s no getting round their inexperience at test match level especially when you throw Tiernan O’Halloran behind them into the mix, but then again how do you get that experience any other way but playing? They have certainly all played in high profile matches on big stages.
Then you have the Murray-Jackson outhalf pairing which has done extremely well executing Schmidtball on this tour. So what if some don’t see it “playing rugby” - it gets results and while Paddy may not have done enough to unseat a fully fit Sexton, he has most definitely shown he can play comfortably at this level and his place kicking has also been impressive.
If we are to get ahead on Saturday we will rely on our pack, where we have made good headway in set pieces and the breakdown. This is the tight eight Joe & Simon have wanted for this series, and here’s hoping we finally get to take full advantage of them, and our bench is a whole lot stronger this time around.
On the South African side of things, it’s hardly a surprise that they are starting Ruan “The Punisher” Combrinck given his impact in Johannesburg, though it remains to be seen how well he does from the start. If our defence settles into a rhythm the Boks may regret getting the ball too quickly into the wider channels, provided of course we have enough cover out there.
All in all it promises to be a fascinating battle. Hopefully we can stay in it up to the final quarter, and if we’re looking for an increase in tempo for those closing stages I can think of noone better to introduce to the fray than Eoin Reddan.
Here’s to a perfect send-off for his career. I don’t think that will happen, but I didn’t think Leicester would win the Premiership, I didn’t think Connacht would win the Pro12, I didn’t think the Republic of Ireland were going to score after that Wes Hoolahan miss, and I didn’t think Brexit would happen. So you probably shouldn’t listen to me. ;-) JLP
PS It goes without saying but I should still say it...The Women’s 7s have their big qualifier tournament in UCD, Northern Ireland are playing Wales, the Republic of Ireland are playing France and last but certainly not least, the Wolfpuppies have the small matter of a World Cup final against England...best of luck to all!
#COYBIG #ShoulderToShoulder #FourProudProvinces
SOUTH AFRICA : 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk,
1 Tendai Mtawarira, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 3 Frans Malherbe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Francois Louw, 7 Siya Kolisi, 8 Warren Whiteley
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Lwazi Mvovo
Castle Lager Incoming Series, Third Test
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Saturday, 25 June, 2016 KO 4pm (Irish time)
Ref: Glen Jackson (NZRU)
AR1: Angus Gardner (ARU)
AR2: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)TMO: Rowan Kitt (RFU)