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Five reasons why the Springboks will beat Ireland

By Daniel Gallan
Duane Vermeulen of South Africa applauds the fans at full-time following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between South Africa and Scotland at Stade Velodrome on September 10, 2023 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

We’ve never been here before. Thanks to a quirk of the draw and recent inconsistencies from the New Zealand All Blacks, we’ve got the top two ranked teams in the world squaring off before the knockouts. Whatever your views are on the lopsided nature of this World Cup, this is something to celebrate.

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Even after absorbing the flood of hot takes on social media, the countless minutes committed to this clash on podcasts and vlogs, and enough words online and in print to fill an encyclopaedia, it’s still almost impossible to call it. According to experts and amateurs alike, Jacques Nienaber and Andy Farrell might as well meet in a Parisian cave à vins and flip a coin. That’s how close it is.

We’re not going to do that here. Instead we’re going to lean into the folly of picking a winner. Crack your knuckles and get ready to send abusive replies after the match because here are five reasons why the Springboks will surely beat Ireland on Saturday night.

Breakdown dominance

As is the case for almost every rugby match at any level, the battle at the breakdown will go a long way in determining the outcome. And these are two of the best, if not the two best in the world in that department.

South Africa’s size is often overplayed but it’s their accuracy at the ruck and around the fringe that needs to be highlighted. To steal a line from the great Irish UFC champion, Connor McGregor, precision beats power and timing beats speed. As was best demonstrated in their demolition of the All Blacks in Twickenham, the Springboks at their best are relentless in securing quick ball and stifling the opposition’s attack.

Much of that has to do with a rejuvenated Pieter-Steph du Toit who is back to his 2019 form that saw him recognised as World Rugby’s player of the year. Of course, it’s not just that blonde tackling machine but the rest of a frenetic pack that targets the point of contact in pairs and almost always seems to have a man ready to clean out.

Ireland were uncharacteristically vulnerable on the ground against Tonga, coughing up 14 turnovers across the match. If a disjointed side like Tonga can disrupt so much of Ireland’s ball, what will the efficiently drilled South Africans do?

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Ireland’s strength lies in the team’s ability to stitch together consistent and probing phases. It’s a proven way of disrupting South Africa’s game as it moves their big pack around and asks questions of a backline that will look to rush at every opportunity. If Sexton isn’t getting enough front ball at pace, and if the South African defence has time to set, breaking them down could prove to be an insurmountable challenge.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
2
Draws
0
Wins
3
Average Points scored
16
22
First try wins
60%
Home team wins
80%

Rush defence

Speaking of rush defences, the South Africans have the most fearsome blitz in the game. The last time the teams met in the Autumn of 2022, the Springboks’ rush, led by Jesse Kriel, who is expected to start at 13 on Saturday, disrupted Ireland’s rhythm. That 19-16 win for Ireland could have gone either way. Sexton was harried and knocked off his groove. Only once did he get around the rush with a trademark wraparound but the supporting defence in the tram quickly snuffed out the threat.

Ireland’s interplay positions them as one of the few teams who can adequately deal with the Springboks’ rush. With a pack of forwards who can pass back against the grain as well as run angles off the shoulder, Ireland won’t shy away from the contact. In fact, inviting the Springboks on might create those half-gaps they need. That’s hardly a given. In fact, on the law of averages, it is also unlikely.

Newfound creativity

South African rugby has long been categorised as one-dimensional, defensive and, let’s be frank, pretty boring. High kicks and meaty mauls. Short passes to unthinking carriers. It’s a simple formula, and three World Cups would suggest that it works.

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Ignoring the fact that this antiquated view has been overly reductive for some time, it is completely false now. The Springboks have one of the most exciting backlines in the game. When last, if ever, could we say that about them? Manie Libbok is painting pictures that were previously only seen in foreign galleries and he has artists of equal dash and daring outside him.

Ireland must now contend with South Africa’s traditional blunt force instruments with the extra threat of surgically sharp weapons out wide and through the midfield. South Africa’s points of difference won’t come as a surprise to Farrell, but, to pinch another famous quote from a man who made a living knocking people out, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. South Africa will rain down blows on the Irish from every conceivable angle.

Team Form

Last 5 Games

4
Wins
4
4
Streak
1
13
Tries Scored
19
29
Points Difference
84
2/5
First Try
4/5
2/5
First Points
4/5
3/5
Race To 10 Points
5/5

Contrasting run-ins

When was the last time Ireland played a side who could realistically beat them? Not a team with an outside chance of causing an upset. Another world class outfit with a genuine hope of lifting the World Cup.

That was 225 days ago when they secured a four-try, 32-19 win over France in Dublin. In that time South Africa have played the All Blacks twice. And, if we include the sides chasing the tails of the top four teams, South Africa still look like the team with the more testing run-in to this showdown with a tricky trip to Argentina as well as a narrow win against the Pumas on home soil. What’s more, they’ve already played Scotland in this pool of death.

In a game of fine margins, and this will certainly be a game of the finest of margins, any fractional advantage could be decisive. South Africa’s better conditioning, and the recent lived-experience of bettering a side with the potential to better them, might sway it their way.

World Cup aura

Sometimes there isn’t a reason that one team beats another. At least, no reason that can be explained with analysis or an algorithm. Sometimes it comes down to intangible variables like auras and vibes. Some teams have it, others don’t. And when it comes to World Cups, there is a chasm in this regard between these two otherwise inseparable squads.

It’s not just their records – three tournament wins on one side, eight quarter final losses, along with a pool stage exit, on the other. South African players and their fans expect to go deep in the competition. Irish players and fans hope that they do. See the difference?

Besides the All Blacks, the Springboks are the only team that would consider anything other than a victory come the end of the road a failure. And when things get sticky with only minutes left on the clock, or matches coalesce into hard fought arm wrestles, belief, as much as skill and training, is often the difference. Whatever transpires on Saturday, only one team can look at history and use it as a platform for more success.

Rugby World Cup

Pool A
P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
France
2
2
0
0
8
2
New Zealand
2
1
1
0
5
3
Italy
1
1
0
0
5
4
Uruguay
1
0
1
0
0
5
Namibia
2
0
2
0
0
Pool B
P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
Ireland
2
2
0
0
10
2
South Africa
2
2
0
0
9
3
Scotland
1
0
1
0
0
4
Tonga
1
0
1
0
0
5
Romania
2
0
2
0
0
Pool C
P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
Wales
2
2
0
0
10
2
Fiji
2
1
1
0
6
3
Australia
2
1
1
0
6
4
Georgia
1
0
1
0
0
5
Portugal
1
0
1
0
0
Pool D
P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
England
2
2
0
0
9
2
Samoa
1
1
0
0
5
3
Japan
2
1
1
0
5
4
Argentina
1
0
1
0
0
5
Chile
2
0
2
0
0
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Abe 1 hours ago
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Not a fan of your picks. McReight is good at club level but he is too small for international level and has consistently disappointed there. Better to go for larger guys. Kemeney, Valentini, Hooper, Leota, Samu, Swinton, etc. Aalatoa and Nonga are woeful scrummagers and don’t offer much around the field. Wallabies will not win if the scrum falls to pieces. The fact that Faamissli hasn’t been developed is a tragedy. Need a scrum that doesn’t give away penalties. So looks like a Talakai maybe instead. Best scrummagers need to be selected. McDermott runs the ball too much and doesn’t fit into a structured attack like Schmidts. Gets isolated too often. Ok off the bench late but not for 60 mins. Goal kicking has to be one of the top 3 points for a 10 so that does in Gordon and O’Connor. Be better off going for lynagh on that front. Donaldson and Noah seem to be doing best of the established names. QC a better mentor type guy than OConnor as well if he’s playing. Daugunu has been the most consistent 13 and breaks the line a lot so must be in the squad. Joost has also been good. Richie Arnold playing well for Toulouse and is a preeminent lineout jumper so needs to be in. Latu also playing well for La Rochelle and is better scrummager than the Aussie choices so should be in. The big guy at the Tahs Amataroso I think it is needs to be developed as well. Otherwise the team will be too small. Hodge is a better choice at fullback than Wright. Latter makes too many mistakes. Not sure if Hodge available.

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Turlough 6 hours ago
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First of all: hats off to Toulouse an outstanding performance. Duponts kicking was phenomenal. Twice he challenged Keenan with amazing clearances from his 22 in extra time. Result was territory deep in Leinster half in the early part of extra time which lead to 2 penalties and the game. Remember also his two 50:22s? Now to Willis/Dupont. ANY slight isolation by a Leinster player resulted in a turnover penalty. How many turnovers in the Toulouse 22? Leinster’s defense was immense, they had opportunities in attack but they honestly looked like they had not spent enough time passing the ball in the training in the weeks preceding the final. Game management was poor. Toulouse’s scrum had crumbled. At 15-15 Leinster had a scrum advantage in a position that would be kickable for a scrum penalty. Leinster played on and missed a long range drop goal. You MUST take the scrum surely? Win penalty and its a shot at goal to win with time up. No penalty and you can attack and drop goal whatever. The distance from sideline penalties from Byrne was shocking. If you are kicking the line you must get close to that 5 metre line. How many times were Leinster forced to maul from 10-15 metres? Toulouse KNEW Leinster was going to kick and maul and clearly spent considerable training time neutralizing thuis threat. The maul was starting too far out, Toulouse were able to stop the heart of the drive. You must change tack and start kicking for goals. That said it always felt like Toulouse were the potent team on the day with Leinster under pressure and chasing. Even with their backline completely disrupted, Toulouse found a way. 9 Wins in their last 9 finals. Leinster will be there next year. But so will Toulouse/Northhampton etc. A great era of club rugby.

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