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Ireland v South Africa: Don't be fooled by the Springboks' charm offensive

By Michael Sadlier

You may have noticed the charm offensive which has been pretty much on the go all week since the Springboks touched down in Dublin.

We've had Boks' skipper Victor Matfield pouring praise on opposite number Paul O'Connell and Matfield, again, happily pictured with Ireland and Lions legend Willie John McBride - not an easy thing for every South African to do despite the fact that it's been 40 years since McBride led the Lions to victory - and even Schalk Burger, he of the gouging incident with Luke Fitzgerald on the 2009 Lions tour, was to be found all smiles and talking about Guinness.

If you didn't know better you'd almost think South Africa were here for an end of season jolly with the Barbarians but such is the way now with Test sides' media and marketing profiles that building a seductive image is all part and parcel of the build-up.

Nobody is fooled of course. Coach Heyneke Meyer's Boks are here off the back of October's epic win over the All Blacks and are intent on putting down a powerful marker as they build towards next autumn's World Cup with Tests against England, Italy and Wales also on their agenda after today's outing against an injury-ravaged Ireland.

As usual, South Africa are all about physical intimidation and power at a level of intensity that only the All Blacks can match, but this Boks side are that bit different from the norm.

Yes, veteran Matfield's lineout dominance is also well-known, as is the dynamic play of fellow second row Eben Etzebeth while the fearsome scrummaging of brothers Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis along with Tendai 'the Beast' Mtawarira gives them pretty much the best front row around.

Oh and number eight Duane Vermeulen is also right up there challenging Kieran Read as the globally dominant player in the position with many thinking that he has already got the nudge on the All Black.

But this is all meat and drink to those who know the Boks and how they go about their business. What Meyer has done is to bring a new emphasis to their game with World Cup glory in mind.

Key to this change has been Meyer's investment in young out-half Handre Pollard whose ability to run with the ball and launch his backline has been identified as having a potentially greater return than simply having Morne Steyn on board to play the percentages and to kick goals from anywhere.

It's a risk, as Pollard is only 20 - and the experience of the injured Ruan Pienaar might have been the preferred choice inside him - but Meyer has recognised that to lift the Webb Ellis trophy, South Africa need to be playing a game based on dynamic offensive play rather than simply beating other sides up until the penalties arrive.

And with Bryan Habana, Willie le Roux and Cornal Hendricks all making up an attack-orientated back three, Pollard, with a bit of guidance from experienced centre Jean de Villiers, is considered the man to get them playing with ambition and pace.

Yes, these Boks really do look the business, both on and off the field.

Belfast Telegraph

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