Ireland v South Africa: Kidney issues wise words of warning
Declan Kidney has been around long enough to know that even with a host of big names missing, South Africa are formidable opponents.
So when Ireland run out this evening to face the Springboks under the lights of the new Aviva Stadium (5.30pm), it will be with their coach’s words of warning ringing in their ears.
Don’t underestimate the strength of the opposition, don’t forget that their line-up features experienced and young players determined to stake their claims for future caps and remember that they are the World Cup holders.
Kidney said: “They have changes in their team, but when you look at the rugby population they have, who’s to know if the guys who have come over might not be the ones who end up holding down a place?
“Every tour throws up something and I’m sure this one will throw up combinations for South Africa that might make them even stronger.”
South Africa’s injured absentees include John Smit, Gürthro Steenkamp, Andries Bekker, Heinrich Brüssow, Schalk Burger, Ricky Januarie, Fourie du Preez, Juan de Jongh, Jaque Fourie, Wynand Olivier and JP Pietersen.
Despite Kidney’s attempts to play them down, those are huge losses.
In addition, midfielder Jean de Villiers faces a late fitness test on a groin problem and if he fails to pass that, Natal Sharks boy wonder Patrick Lambie, who has just turned 20, will make his Boks debut at inside centre.
A definite debutant is Deon Stegmann, the Bulls’ number seven who packs down beside club colleague Pierre Spies, the tourists’ outstanding No 8.
“We need an out and out specialist to counter Ireland at the breakdown,” was Boks coach Peter De Villiers take on that selection.
With injuries having forced his hand, De Villiers has also included out-of-sorts Ulster scrum-half Ruan Pienaar who partners Morne Steyn.
Meanwhile, Victor Matfield captains the side from the second row in tandem with his old partner Bakkies Botha in a team showing eight changes — nine if De Villiers is unavailable — to the one which ended the Tri-Nations against Australia in September.
But in keeping with his opposite number’s interpretation of how these changes might actually work in South Africa’s favour, De Villiers appeared to agree with Kidney when he said: “It’s a new-look side — with 13 season-ending injuries it couldn’t be anything else. But we’re looking on the positive side and this is a great opportunity to test some new players in the toughest conditions.”
He too underlined the motivation within his squad when he added: “We also have a number of senior players returning to the team after long lay-offs for one reason or another and they are
keen to re-stake their claim to a starting place.”
The controversial Boks coach’s parting shot was: “We’ve not had much time to bed this new team together but the players have worked hard all week to be as well prepared as we possibly can.”
So too have Ireland, who are delighted to be returning to their home in Dublin 4. Tommy Bowe summed up the mood.
“I can't wait. It’s going to be a great opportunity. We've all been
dying to get out there and play on the pitch. From what I gather, the atmosphere in the stadium is something else,” he said.
Captain Brian O’Driscoll echoed his 2009 Grand Slam-winning colleague’s excitement.
“I have felt very good in training this week and am really looking forward to facing the Springboks. It would be great to christen the Aviva Stadium in a Test capacity with a memorable performance, on and off the pitch,” he added. “Hopefully we can recreate that really special atmosphere that was such an important part of the old Lansdowne Road experience.” Coach Kidney called the return to Irish rugby’s home “a real special occasion”.
“This is the oldest international rugby ground in the world and sometimes we maybe forget just what we have in our own backyard. It’s a real special occasion and a huge privilege to be part of it,” he said.