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Ireland must run the Boks off their feet

SOUTH African coach Heyneke Meyer has the luxury of naming an unchanged side that just weeks ago defeated the World Champion All Blacks.

Conversely Joe Schmidt must feel that the Gods have deserted him such has been his disjointed week.

There was some relief when veteran tight head prop Mike Ross just about made it, but the leadership and experience of Ulster and Ireland hooker Rory Best will be sorely missed, especially in an area where the opposition always weld a fairly big stick.

But all distractions and injuries considered it is still an exciting Irish line-up with plenty of experience and dynamism.

For so many years we have always seen the names of Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll automatically pencilled in, but the one time world record partnership is sadly gone, replaced by Ulster's Kiwi Jared Payne and Connaught's Robbie Henshaw.

Payne who qualifies under the new three-year citizen ship rule was always touted as a future All Black during his time as an Auckland Blue, and the only new cap in the Irish team will add much needed street smarts and experience in combination with the raw but physical talents of Henshaw.

Schmidt faces the expectations of the 'second season syndrome' and he will call on all his New Zealand experience to tactically outsmart a South African team, new on culture and in rude good health.

While the Irish players only get an annual look at Southern Hemisphere rugby, Schmidt has had plenty of experience in dealing with the South African rugby culture whilst a coach for the Auckland Blues.

It is no coincidence that the rise in Ireland's rugby stock both at European and International level has been influenced in recent years by the fact that the Irish players are able to play against teams in Europe week in, week out. However, the Southern Hemisphere still remains more difficult to read.

Consequently the main teams south of the equator currently fill the top three spots in the world, Ireland is a respectable fourth.

More than at any other time in South Africa's illustrious rugby history we are witnessing a cultural change in the way that the Springboks are playing the game.

During the last year in particular, it seems that the South Africans have started to produce and promote young and exciting backs to bolster their already renowned muscle up front. Players such as fullback Willie le Roux, outhalf Handré Pollard and scrumhalf Francois Hougaard are all part of a new breed, one that is prepared to attack from anywhere with ball in hand and leave the old leather kicking game behind.

While the Springboks arrived in Dublin in pretty good shape, Schmidt's gang are struggling with something of an injury epidemic especially in the front row where a match fit prop is like a four-leafed clover.

Still 100 per cent unsure as to O'Driscoll's natural successor and with only a dozen games to the World Cup, Schmidt has opted for Payne at 13 and Henshaw inside.

That is sensible because while Payne may be later better employed as a fullback he has the experience at 13 in a position that requires brawn and intelligence. Henshaw is raw, but he has the type of build and talent to make a seriously good player.

A few years ago southern hemisphere teams where often a little underdone when it came to off-season tours, but this team has not only had a tough Super Championship to get their combinations spot on, but have also been in camp for the past few months.

Schmidt will know that first thing you have to do to win is match the bigger Springboks in the physical exchanges and the collision areas of the tackle and breakdown.

Irelands' mauling game was brilliant last year, even against the bigger sides. Ireland's new forwards coach Simon Easterby will want to build on the foundations built by the impressive John Plumtree.

The way the All Blacks regularly beat South Africa is to get in the ball in behind them, and then up the tempo of the game. As soon as South Africa's big men get to the rucks, the ball must be gone constantly moving the ball away from point of contact. Easier said than done especially for an Irish team that has limited time together and against a team high on confidence and without disruption.

FIVE WAYS TO BEAT THE BOKS

1 Constantly move the ball to the wider channels. South Africa often have the luxury of being able to commit less numbers to rucks therefore enabling them to guard the fringes well. The gaps are further out. South Africa has never really fielded traditional open-side flankers like other countries do, they prefer their players to be big physical marauders, Ireland can win the race to the all important breakdown.

2 Retain possession and raise the tempo of the game. The only way the All Blacks regularly beat the Springboks is to literally run them off their feet, but this means no turnovers, retention of the ball and kicking for space. Easy in theory but hard in reality. Speed of play and ruck ball is the formula for a win.

3 Victor Matfield is South Africa's go to man in the lineout. Ireland can try and lessen the veteran's influence by putting one of the tallest Internationals in the world Devin Toner up in front of him. Or by using the likes of Paul O Connell to lift rather than contest in certain key areas. Put the pressure on the South African thrower.

4 Attack the 9-10 channel with ball in hand. Exciting young out-half Pollard is without doubt a star in the making, but he is still inexperienced and without the likes of Ruan Pienaar inside him can still be pressurised. Johnny Sexton to take it to the line hard and then look for his runners off either shoulder.

5 Maul lower than the Springboks. Close to their own line it is always harder for the bigger man to get his body down. Ireland need to take the ball down quickly, assemble low and hide the ball at the back of a well organised maul. Any team can make yards if this is done right, even against the South Africans. And if all else fails pray!


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