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The 'exactly what you need' Springboks approach to facing Ireland

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Springboks boss Jacques Nienaber has explained the logic behind his six/two ‘bomb squad’ split to face Ireland this weekend, adding that the November tour opener in Dublin is ideal given that the teams will clash again just ten months from now at the World Cup. Next year’s September 23 Stade de France encounter between the title-defending South Africa and high-flying Irish is already one of the most anticipated matches at Rugby World Cup 2023.

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Nienaber is limbering up for that tournament by taking the Springboks on a four-match tour across the coming weeks, starting away to Ireland before moving on to visit France, Italy and England.

The Springboks will open their schedule with a six/two forwards/backs split on their Aviva Stadium bench, Nienaber deciding to pick scrum-half Faf de Klerk and full-back Willie le Roux as the only two backs named in his eight-strong list of replacements.

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Right winger Cheslin Kolbe, who is wearing the unfamiliar No15 shirt for the first time at international level, is on standby to cover No10 in case of an emergency with the starting Damian Willemse.

“The reason for the six/two split is we had a good look at the strengths of Ireland and we feel the combination of the six/two split and also the combination that we selected at the back three is probably going to give us the best possible advantage against Ireland,” explained Nienaber after naming an XV containing three backline changes and the same starting pack from the September 24 win over Argentina.

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“That is the reason for the six/two split. We all know one of Ireland’s strengths is their multi-phase attack, their fitness, and the speed of their breakdown so we think selecting that combination will serve us the best. If you look at Ireland across the board, there is a reason why they are currently No1 in the world and they have beaten New Zealand in New Zealand.

“They have got a well-balanced game. Everybody sees their attack and how well they attack and how they keep the ball in hand but they are the best defensive side in the world currently, conceding the least tries, the least points.

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“I don’t think you can put your finger on one thing. They are well-balanced and that is why they are No1 in the world, that is why is such a challenge for us to come and compete against Ireland in Ireland in the Aviva, which is a fortress for them. It’s a nice challenge before the World Cup knowing we are going to play them in the pool stages.”

How pivotal an Autumn Nations Series is it with that World Cup pool encounter now just ten months away? “For both teams, this will be quite a big game especially if you have a little bit of your eye on the World Cup when we are in the same pool,” reckoned Nienaber.

“For both sides, it will be important to have a proper performance and what you would like a year out before a World Cup is you want to play the No1 team in the world away from home and you want to test yourself against them.

“This end-of-year tour we are playing some proper teams. Ireland week one, No1 in the world. Then the French, Six Nations champions, No2 in the world. Then we play Italy, and we all saw what Italy did in the Six Nations against Wales in the last game, and then we move on to England. This is exactly what you need.

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“We are happy that we have a tour like this before you go into a World Cup and for everybody, this will be a big tour – for us, for Ireland, for England, for teams that are touring, New Zealand, Australia because you want to build some momentum going into the World Cup.”

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finn 9 hours ago
Why the world needs a reverse Lions tour

I think there’s a lot of reasons this wouldn’t work, but if we’re just proposing fun things how about a “World Series” held the june/july following a world cup. The teams competing each four years would be: the current world champions The Pacific Islands The British & Irish Lions The World XV Barbarians FC to ensure all teams are fairly evenly matched, the current world champions would name their squad first; then The Pacific Islands would name next, and would be able to select any pacific qualified players not selected by the world champions, including players already “captured” by non-pacific nations who would otherwise have been eligible for selection (eg. Bundee Aki); the Lions would select next; and then The World XV and Barbarians FC would be left to fight over anyone not selected. Some people will point out that 5 teams is too many for a mid-year round robin, particularly as it would be nice to have a final as well; and they would be right! But because we’re just having fun here we’re going to innovate an entirely new format for rugby, where the round robin is played in one stadium over the course of one day, with each game lasting just 40 minutes with no half time or change of ends. The round robin decides the seedings for the knockouts, which are contested by all 5 teams in one stadium over the course of one day, according to the following schedule: Knockout Round 1: seed 5 v seed 4 (contested over 1 half of indetermined length, finishing when one team reaches 7 points) ~ 10 minute break ~ Quarter Final: winner of Round 1 v seed 3 (contested over 1 half of indetermined length, finishing when one team reaches 7 points) ~ 10 minute break ~ Semi Final: winner of Quarter Final v seed 2 (contested over 1 half of indetermined length, finishing when one team reaches 7 points) ~ 10 minute break ~ Final: winner of Semi Final v seed 1 (played as a standard 80 minute rugby match) for the round robin, teams would name a 15 man starting lineup and a 16 man bench. Substitutions during games can only be made for injuries, but any number of substitutions can be made between games. The same rules apply for the finals, except that we return to having a regular 8 man bench, and would allow substitutions as normal during the 80 minute final.

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