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Peter Bills: Dion back in the Cape but cheering Irish

He'll watch the match with a braai burning on his patio amid the hills outside Cape Town.

But don’t be fooled by the South African location — Dion O’Cuinne again will be shouting for Ireland in today’s international against South Africa at the new Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

What’s more, O’Cuinneagain, South African born but an ex-Ballymena player who won 19 caps for Ireland, says that Brian O’Driscoll’s men have to be hot favourites for today’s Test.

“It’s very rare Ireland goes into a Test against South Africa as favourites but they must be for this one,” he says.

“This is the end of a very rocky season for the South Africans and I would be very disappointed for Ireland if they don’t win.”

O’Cuinneagain reckons he will kick himself for ever after for not making the journey to Dublin today.

“I was very chuffed to be invited by the IRFU to attend the after-match party.

“I suspect this will be the worst decision I’ve ever made, not coming back for the first Test match at the new ground.

“I would much rather have been in Ireland for the weekend — I think it will be a fantastic match.”

Many of his old Belfast chums will be down in Dublin to see the game. Happy memories of those days?

O’Cuinneagain smiles. “Of course. I still feel very proud to have played for Ireland. I am still very fond of Ireland, even though my home is now in the Cape.

“I follow Irish rugby quite closely and I feel very confident they can beat the Springboks. In fact, if Ireland don’t win they will have gone down a notch or two from previous years.

“The Irish team of last year would easily beat the Springboks’ team of this year.

“Ireland have had plenty of time to prepare for this Test and I can’t see them getting it wrong.

“However, they should be careful because the South Africans are most dangerous when they are being written off.

“They tend to perform at their best in those circumstances.

“However, it would be an unbelievable surprise if they beat Ireland in this game.

(Ireland forwards coach) Gert Smal out-smarted the South Africans’ pack last time they met, a year ago in Dublin, and I think he will this time, too.”

O’Cuinneagain, who captained Ireland in Test rugby and also skippered South Africa at schoolboys and Sevens level, says the memories of his time in Belfast remain as fresh as ever.

“I have very fond memories of our time over there.

“I was there with Michelle, my wife, and our times there were some of the happiest moments of our lives.

“We still keep up with a lot of friends from over there.”

Now a doctor at the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town, O’Cuinneagain is a close follower of the South African rugby scene.

“And he has a tough message for injured Springbok captain John Smit, who is missing this tour,” he says.

“If Smit goes to the World Cup next year as Springbok hooker and captain, South Africa will definitely be a weaker side.”

Belfast Telegraph


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