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boks primed to win

Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, Tomorrow (KO 5.30) Live RTÉ2, Sky Sports 2

Take away all of what Jamie Heaslip (pictured) likes to call the "noise" around this and you are left with two simple facts.

Joe Schmidt's Leinster and Ireland have always been slow starters and Heyneke Meyer's South Africa are in prime condition and position to make it count come tomorrow evening.

When it comes to the remarkable influence of Schmidt, he has never been able to get his game-plan going in the earliest part of the season for either Leinster or Ireland.

Of course, there are valid, understandable reasons for this. The devil is in the details Schmidt demands of his players. They have to get up to speed quickly.

This is nowhere more relevant than in the exciting, new centre partnership between Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw. It is physically well-balanced and, potentially, another insight into Schmidt's knowledge of the game.

The most encouraging factor is that Schmidt is slow to take a chance and, here, he takes two of them, side-by-side in what is one of the greatest challenges in world rugby.

Payne has not been firing on all cylinders at No 13 for Ulster because the space to play off-the-cuff has been shut down.

Henshaw has little or no experience at No 12 where Gordon D'Arcy would have slotted right in seamlessly.

LOATH

Schmidt spoke of how he was loath to separate Henshaw and Payne because they have been practising in the centre for the best part of two weeks.

At the same time, he assured the assembled media that D'Arcy was back to full fitness from the injury that hurt him against Castres.

This is a worry for the Leinster centre because he knows Schmidt's system like the back of his hand.

Surely, it would have been prudent, rather than speculative, to go with the proven man unless Schmidt doesn't see D'Arcy lasting the course to the World Cup.

Then again, the Irish coach has emphasised the necessity to build squad depth.

When D'Arcy goes down, there has to be someone ready to take his place.

It remains to be seen whether this selection is one for the long-term or a means of developing Henshaw.

However, according to Brian O'Driscoll, it is part of Henshaw's make-up that he likes to hurt people and there is no better place to put that into practice than inside centre.

In contrast, South Africa's Meyer does not like to clutter the heads of his players.

They play their natural game, dominate at the set-piece, win the collisions and take it from there.

At least, that has been their way. Until now.

Meyer is smart enough to play to the strengths of the men at his disposal. His coach has talked in glowing terms of the calmness and skills set honed by his ten.

Handre Pollard was a man amongst boys at the U20 World Cup.

His transition to the Rugby Championship was seamless because of his physicality at out-half and the wide array of weapons he takes into any contest, making South Africa more unpredictable, especially from deep.

There has been little or nothing said of Ireland's answer, Jonathan Sexton, He has been kept away from all media this week, waiting, biding his time to show Meyer and Pollard he has still some way to go to reach the top of the mountain.

Sexton doesn't require any extra motivation to get his engine revved. But, listening to and reading about the gifts Pollard has, the problems he presents for defences must be like a red rag to a bull.

This is the perfect time for Sexton to remind The Aviva what Irish rugby is missing.

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Ross, P O'Connell (capt), D Toner, P O'Mahony, C Henry, J Heaslip.

South Africa: W le Roux; C Hendricks, J Serfontein, J de Villiers (capt), B Habana; H Pollard, F Hougaard; T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis, E Etzebeth, V Matfield, M Coetzee, T Mohoje, D Vermeulen.

Verdict: South Africa


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