By Ciarán Ó Flaithearta
Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus has said “The World Cup is Ireland’s bogey competition” as we head into week three of the Rugby World Cup.
This Saturday, Ireland is set to face their biggest challenge to date, and one of the most decisive matches of their World Cup journey.
With both Ireland and South Africa winning their first two pool stage matches, many will be expecting this to be the decider between first and second place in group A.
In history out of the 27 times that the sides have met, South Africa has come out on top 18 times, with Ireland claiming victory just eight times with there being only one drawn fixture in total. Despite their historical dominance against Ireland, the Boks have lost four out of the last six encounters.
Ireland team news
Ireland have made just one change from the team that faced Tonga last week. Scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park returns to the starting line-up with Connor Murray moving to the bench. Jack Crowley has made his mark as of late, winning the number 22 jersey ahead of Ross Byrne, which many will believe to be due to his versatility to play across the back line.
Both Dan Sheehan and Finlay Bealham have also been re-introduced following injury, in an attempt to counteract the South African bomb squad.
South Africa team news
On the other hand, the Boks have named a team not dissimilar to that of the 22 Autumn Nations series. Marx has been replaced by Mbonambi due to injury, with the only other change to the pack coming at second row as De Jager has been replaced by Mostert as Etzebeth returns to the fold following an injury sustained in the first match. With many identifying Libbok as a weakness, Erasmus thinks otherwise, backing his creative flair to push the Boks over the line.
Their bench, however, is something quite unheard of, as Erasmus and co, have chosen a split of seven forwards to one back, allowing them to change all but one of their pack in the attempts to out-muscle the Irish. Former Leinster head coach Matt Williams has weighed in to say that “it is not morally correct”.
Although neither team have been pegged as favourites coming into the competition, the bookies have tipped their hats to the Boks.
Whatever the outcome, it is shaping up to be an exciting game of rugby with the winner taking the World #1 ranked spot and possibly the top spot in group A.