Match Preview – Springboks And Ireland In Epic Battle In Paris

 

Rugby World Cup 2023 kicked off on 8 September with a fixture that could easily have made a final. Three Saturdays later, the sporting festival continues with a match that could easily be the final, as the defending champions and second-ranked team in the world meet the one side above them in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings. And we’re still in the pool stage.

The slimmest of margins – just 0.15 points – separate the two unbeaten sides heading into this titanic Pool B encounter at Stade de France. But with the race for the quarter-finals heating up – and rivals Scotland waiting for an opening – neither will want to slip up in Saint-Denis. This is about as good as it gets.

Eleven players who started Ireland’s 19-16 win over South Africa last time out in Dublin in November 2022 start at Stade de France, including Peter O’Mahony, who will bring up a century of test caps following his 98 caps for Ireland and one for the British and Irish Lions, and Bundee Aki, who will win his 50th cap.

Jamison Gibson-Park replaces Conor Murray at scrum-half in the only change to the starting XV that took on Tonga. Murray takes Craig Casey’s place among the replacements.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell said that Ireland will stick with their tried-and-trusted formula. “There are all sorts of different permutations. Even with a five-three split, you can’t cover everything. But you need to be adaptable, which is something we have worked hard at with our planning over the last few years. I suppose they have done exactly the same with the seven-one split. I love it, I respect it. I like the fact they know their squad and brought four scrum-halves over, a hooker who has not really played in that specialist position before. It shows they know their players and which direction they want to go. Hopefully, they think the same about us as well.”

Meanwhile, Springboks’ head coach Jacques Nienaber has made 13 changes of personnel and one positional switch from the team that beat Romania 76-0 on Sunday. Hooker Mbongeni Mbonambi is the only player to wear the same jersey, while Damian Willemse reverts to full-back with Manie Libbok playing fly-half.

Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick said that they will not change much for Ireland. "You are playing against the best team in the world. As a team, we will probably lean more to our strengths. I don’t think there’s going to be much change in how we normally play the game. If you look at the challenges we have faced so far this season, we have played the All Blacks – one of the best attacking teams in the world – twice and if you are not at your best in your systems and defence, they will punish you. It was the same in our first game against Scotland, which is one of the best-attacking teams, and Ireland is similar. They are well organised in their systems. They are not just number one for nothing, they are doing something right."

Teams:

Springboks: 1 Steven Kitshoff, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 3 Frans Malherbe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 8 Jasper Wiese, 9 Faf de Klerk, 10 Manie Libbok, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 12 Damian de Allende, 13 Jesse Kriel, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 15 Damian Willemse. Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 RG Snyman, 21 Marco van Staden, 22 Kwagga Smith, 23 Cobus Reinach.

Ireland: 1 Andrew Porter, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 5 James Ryan, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Caelan Doris, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 11 James Lowe, 12 Bundee Aki, 13 Garry Ringrose, 14 Mack Hansen, 15 Hugo Keenan.Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Ryan Baird, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Robbie Henshaw.