Of course Joe Schmidt & co are doing everything they can win every game...such is the nature of any sport, but when I say “can’t lose” I mean in the eyes of Irish fans (not including those I call “#SchmidtStirrers” though hopefully those numbers dwindled a bit last weekend).
I guess what I’m trying to say is that given the heroic nature of the display & result at Newlands, and factoring in what an insanely long season it has been (by the end of the third test it will be pushing 11 months), then barring a complete humiliation on par with the 2012 Horror in Hamilton (also at the end of a World Cup year) it would be very difficult to consider this trip to South Africa as anything but a success.
Am I tempting fate? Probably. But don’t worry, fate never listens to me. Whoops, there I went and did it again. Best start harping on the second test!
You have to like this starting matchday 23. Clearly Joe is determined to get a look at everyone on this tour, and that isn’t something that always happens when we travel.
And to those who are raising eyebrows at certain selections, not for the first time I have to highlight an ongoing factor in Joe Schmidt’s selection process...you get into his squad based on provincial form but to make his matchday 23 you have to show him you’re the right man for the job in training.
Obviously I’m not privy to what goes on in their sessions but I’d be inclined to think Quinn Roux has proved himself worthy of selection as a tight head lock. As for Matt Healy’s exclusion...well maybe that’s not so much down to his form as it is to (1) Craig Gilroy being ahead in the pecking order and (2) Joe’s likely preference to keep Henshaw at 13 for the duration thus leaving O’Halloran to provide the necessary fullback cover for Jared Payne.
We have to assume that the Springboks will come out all guns blazing for this one. It’s on the highveld so they’ll be keen to build a lead as early as possible as in all likelihood we’ll tire towards the end. But that’s on their side of the ball and to be honest, the intensity we’ll be expecting from them this Saturday is surely no different to that we expected last.
So from our point of view we just have to hit the ground running and hope our players can settle into the kind of accuracy that Joe Schmidt demands. We have a southern hemisphere ref this time around, so we’ll need to adjust our breakdown work accordingly. I like the fact that we’ve used Iain Henderson to fill the gap left by CJ - I expect him to see a lot of ball and if he does, there should be many a gainline broken.
Then there’s the massive challenge facing Tadhg Furlong and Finlay Bealham holding down the scrum. Much of our fate rests on their shoulders...literally. But I have seen plenty from the pair of them that they can do well and they certainly both offer more about the pitch than Mike Ross so we’ll see how they get on.
As for the backs well despite the fact that Les Kiss is no longer directly involved in the coaching his influence is there for all to see as it’s a virtually an Ulster lineup back there...and even at that Luke Marshall misses out, which is very unfortunate for him, and actually another Ulsterman who could have played 12 isn’t there. Instead it’s down to Stuart Olding to play this key Joe Schmidt role and he most certainly has the ability to shine there - this will be a massive challenge for him.
Last week I said we “can” win but I predicted a home victory. Despite how things turned out, I’m going for a similar forecast this time around. The bookies graciously brought in their spread from 15 to 12 for the Springboks...mine is going from 8 to about 3-5 points. I reckon we’ll compete and could well be ahead by the 50-60m mark but I’m not sure we have enough on the bench to bring it home. As always, I will be over the moon to be proven wrong.
Here’s to a great Saturday for Irish sport...congrats to the Green and White Army in Lyon yesterday, here’s hoping Martin O’Neill & Joe Schmidt’s men can complete the set! JLP
PS Best wishes as well of course to the Men’s Sevens competing in Monaco in their bid for Olympic qualification
#COYBIG #ShoulderToShoulder #FourProudProvinces
SOUTH AFRICA : 15. Willie le Roux 14. JP Pietersen 13. Lionel Mapoe 12. Damian De Allende 11. Lwazi Mvovo 10. Elton Jantjies 9. Faf de Klerk
1. Tendai Mtawarira 2. Adriaan Strauss (captain) 3. Frans Malherbe 4. Eben Etzebeth 5. Pieter-Steph du Toit 6. Francois Louw 7. Siya Kolisi 8. Duane Vermeulen
Replacements:16. Bongi Mbonambi 17. Trevor Nyakane 18. Julian Redelinghuys 19. Franco Mostert 20. Warren Whiteley 21. Rudy Paige 22. Morne Steyn 23. Ruan Combrinck
Castle Lager Incoming Series, Second Test
Saturday, 18 June, 2016 KO 4pm (Irish time)
Referee Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant 1 Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant 2 Ben Whitehouse (Wales)TMO Jim Yuille (Scotland)