Exclusive: Springboks Bigger Threat To Ireland’s World Cup Hopes Than All Blacks, Says Brian O’Driscoll
EXCLUSIVE — They might be the back to back champions, but Brian O’Driscoll believes Ireland’s best hope of progressing to a maiden semi-finals berth at the World Cup would be to stare down the Haka rather than facing the Springboks in the quarter-finals.
In a cruel twist of fate for the Emerald Isle, Pool A favourites Ireland will all but certainly play either the All Blacks or Springboks from Pool B in the first knockout stage in Japan next month.
Whatever way you look at it, it’s an almighty task for a nation that is bidding to make the final four for the first time.
It was only 10 months ago that anyone coming up against Ireland in a World Cup would have felt uneasy after an extraordinary winning run which included Six Nations success, a series win in Australia and a stunning 16-9 victory over the All Blacks in Dublin.
Now, after a rather dramatic slide started by a poor Six Nations and humbling defeat to England last month in a warm-up fixture ahead of the World Cup, it is Ireland that once again appears to be getting shaky feet.
While O’Driscoll believed Joe Schmidt had assembled the best Ireland squad for a World Cup campaign, the Irish legend admitted a potential quarter-final against two of rugby’s superpowers was both exciting yet daunting.
“I think a little from column a, a little from column b, because of where the team was 9-10 months ago I think it’s hard not to feel nervous around that,” O’Driscoll told foxsports.com.au, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019.
“The wind was definitely taken out of their sails by England then again by Wales (in the Six Nations) and we just haven’t got back to the lofty heights of some of the rugby we’ve played over the last 18 months.
“With a small bit of nervousness because of New Zealand being two-time world champions but also the power game that South Africa can play, and I’d be nervous about how we could do with that because England have shown the blueprint of how to go after Ireland over the course of the last seven or eight months.”
O’Driscoll’s comments are enough to scare the living daylights out of the rest of the rugby world given the success the All Blacks have had under coach Steve Hansen.
While they might have lost two out of their past three matches against Ireland in the past three years — the only defeats New Zealand have ever had against the Irish — the All Blacks have been on the wrong end of the scoreboard on just nine occasions from 100 Tests under Hansen.
But there’s no doubt that the Springboks, who are in fifth place on the World Rugby rankings, are gathering pace and momentum on the eve of the Cup.
Their extraordinary 16-16 draw to the All Blacks in Wellington in July and maiden Rugby Championship trophy was another indicator of that.
And with depth and bullish power right across the forward pack, as well as world class halves Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard, they have a game that can match any team in the world.
Despite having a better overall record against the Springboks than the All Blacks, O’Driscoll was adamant that the power game from Rassie Erasmus’ men was something Ireland would more likely struggle to deal with that New Zealand’s all-round game.
“We’ve got better history against the Springboks, we’ve beaten them more often, but I do feel as though if they bring their brilliant power game we’ll struggle with them because that’s been something we’ve found difficult in the past,” O’Driscoll said.
“They seem to be really humming with that part of their game.
“They don’t have to be too coy about what way they play the game.
“They play the game with brutality and that was kind of anonymous a couple of years ago when Ireland pulled them apart at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
“It’s good to see from a World Rugby perspective to see the Springboks back and strong.
“We need our superpowers back strong for the strength of the game and not just have it as New Zealand’s cup to lose.”
Despite his nervousness about what was to come, O’Driscoll, who played at three World Cups and is the second most capped player of all time (141) behind Richie McCaw (148), said Schmidt had assembled the best Irish squad to ever go to a World Cup.
“It’s definitely the most competitive 31 that we’ve put together,” the former Irish captain said.
“For the first time in memory there’s been some glaring omissions, namely Devin Toner, but other guys like Jordi Murphy and Kieran Marmion, who certainly in Ireland, maybe not internationally recognised, people would have thought warranted inclusion have been left out.
“It shouts that we have a greater strength in depth and all of a sudden we’re picking from a quality 40 rather than 25 or 30.”
O’Driscoll did, however, express his shock that South African-born Jean Kleyn was picked ahead of Toner, the 33-year-old veteran of 67 Tests.
“It was only in November that he (Toner) put in almost a man of the match performance against the All Blacks,” O’Driscoll said.
“It’s a huge fall from grace to not be in the 31-man squad.
“I think coupled with that Jean Kleyn has come in and only has a couple of caps under his belt and one of them he was pretty anonymous.
“I think from an actual lineout option and an experience point of view and what Devin brings, I think he showed a lot more in the last year than Jean Kleyn has showed.”
Read More: https://www.foxsports.com.au/rugby/rugby-world-cup/exclusive-springboks-bigger-threat-to-irelands-world-cup-hopes-than-all-blacks-says-brian-odriscoll/news-story/76ac129a3061d8ad81bb25b8ce03f3b7
Author: Christy Doran.