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'They know us as well:' South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus plays down Ireland inside experience ahead of potential quarter-final tie

Head coach Rassie Erasmus
Head coach Rassie Erasmus

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

A 23-13 defeat to New Zealand put the Springboks on course for a quarter-final against the winner of Pool A and tomorrow's clash between Scotland and Ireland will go a long way to deciding who they will meet.

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South Africa's Head Coach Rassie Erasmus spent a season and a half with Munster in 2017 and 2018, with his defence coach Jacques Nienaber also working at the province with a host of Ireland stars.

Since returning to South Africa to take over the Springboks, the coach recruited two former colleagues in fitness coach Aled Walters and former Ireland full-back and Munster assistant coach Felix Jones on the eve of this World Cup.

Joe Schmidt has already spoken about his perception that Jones' place in the South African backroom team is a major risk to Ireland's chances of making a first semi-final - if the teams meet.

But Erasmus played down any benefit in his post-match press conference.

"We’ve got an important game against Italy along the way, we’ve got Canada and Namibia also but Italy, in the last three years, we’ve had slippery games against them so I might mention them before we start talking about the quarter-finals now as this result puts us under some pressure," he said.

"We would have loved to win to have got some momentum going to the quarter-finals, but I tell you - Scotland, Ireland, Wales... there are so many teams that can currently do well on the day.

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"Looking at Wales and England (in the warm-ups), on two consecutive weekends they smashed each other and even New Zealand and Australia, on two consecutive weekends the score went from 40 points one way to 40 points the other.

"Again, today, I wouldn't say the scoreboard flattered us but if New Zealand scored another try it would have been a good hiding.

"But, there's also a time in the game where we made the game very, very close so there is such small margins between a good hiding or you enjoy the win.

"So, to answer you I wouldn’t prefer Ireland or Scotland.

"Gregor is a great coach, Joe is a great coach. Obviously, we know the Irish players really well but obviously they know us as well so I’m not sure we’d have an advantage in that regard."

Although they started brilliantly and battered the All Blacks in the opening quarter without getting significant reward on the scoreboard, the 'Boks wilted in the second 20 minutes and never recovered from tries from George Bridge and Scott Barrett.

They hung in until the end, but now must beat Namibia, Italy and Canada to emerge from Pool B.

Many will feel the All Blacks cemented their place as the tournament favourites with their dazzling attacking display, but the South Africa coach believes they will face big challenges when they meet the European teams in the knock-outs.

"I think people must remember that we are the No 4 or 5 ranked team in the world, so I think we at this stage we are not the benchmark to compare teams with," he said.

"When you look at the likes of England, Ireland and Wales; I think New Zealand will have some stiff competition to get to the final still.

"There are teams who can handle their kicking game, specific things they do and might handle it a little better than we did on the day.

"We've played them now six times in the last two years, so we know each other well.

"They are definitely the favourites for the World Cup and they always have been, we've never had a doubt.

"I just feel that we’re creeping a little bit closer to challenge them, but they will have different challenges against teams like England, Ireland and Wales who bring different threats to the party.

"We guarantee some things, but they handled our maul very well today. They handled our scrum well, our kicking-game well.

"You play teams like Wales and England and there's a totally different strength there.

"By all means they're the favourites, but they will have different tactical challenges against the Northern Hemisphere teams."

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