Ireland form underlines Springboks' biggest challenge of 2024

golf05 February 2024 10:00
By:Brenden Nel
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Ireland players celebrate © Gallo Images

The weekend news reports that Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus is planning a warm-up test match against Wales at Twickenham a week before the start of the two-test series against Ireland has underlined just how serious the challenge is being taken by the defending World Champions.

Ireland’s demolition of France this past Friday in their opening Six Nations game in Marseilles has raised several talking points, but the most glaring one is that the former World No 1 side is hell bent on regaining their dominance at the top of the World Rankings again.

And having conquered New Zealand in a test series two years ago, they have now set their sights on the Springboks after the Six Nations, where they will be looking to defend their title.

It is no coincidence that the Irish challenge would weigh heavily on the Boks, especially after their back-to-back World Cup victories.

Ireland have beaten the Boks twice in a row - including an epic game in Paris during the World Cup pool stages that had the Boks smarting afterwards for their lack of finishing after creating a number of opportunities.

And while some commentators were trying to sell the idea that Friday night’s clash in Marseilles was “the World Cup final that everybody wanted”, you’d find few south of the equator who weren’t chuckling at that description.

In fact, a World Cup fifth-place playoff was more on the mark as both the top two sides before the World Cup never made it past the quarterfinals of the showpiece tournament.

And while France will sit down today wondering if it was just the two moments of madness from South African-born Paul Willemse that cost them their chance at glory, the reality was that they were outplayed more than that.

The questions will be raised about a team without Antoine Dupoint and whether their pedigree is as good as they make it out to be, despite the significant boost of a home World Cup and the mountains of cash that seems to keep the French Top14 flowing.

In reality they were outplayed by a clinical and ruthless Irish side that dismantled their lineout, blunted the French flair and were on top in all aspects of the game throughout.


Andy Farrell did his best to downplay what was a significant and groundbreaking victory at a traditional French fortress away from home.

“We want to be in it (title contention) at the last week but internally we’re hungry to be as good as we possibly can be,” he said.

“In reality it’s one win, it’s one win out of one and we’ve got to be on to the next one.

“It (the championship) is not won or lost but it’s about building on this.

“We tend to be pretty harsh on our performances when we’ve won because we’re able to do that and make some good points so hopefully we’re able to get better because of that.

“But the feelgood factor of a victory like that… it’s a special victory, it definitely is and it’s there to be celebrated, that’s for sure.”

While it seems now that Ireland could cruise to the title if they keep the same form throughout the Six Nations, it underlines that they will be one of the toughest sides to ever tour South Africa later this year.

Leinster are still top of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship and provide the bulk of the players for the Irish squad and many of them are getting used to local conditions with every visit to these shores.

And they won’t be overawed by the challenge, having won an incredible series in New Zealand, adding to their motivation that if they grab another Southern Hemisphere scalp away from home they would have achieved history.

So Erasmus’s hope of a tune-up, shake off the rust test match at Twickenham, where the Boks traditionally have a lot of support, makes a whole lot of sense.

The last thing the Boks would want is to be caught cold at home as they were in 2016.

Which all goes to show that the Irish commentary couldn’t have been more off the point - the two tests in July in SA are the “World Cup final many would have wanted to see”.

And certainly the biggest rugby feast that will be dished up in the July test window.