Ireland show glimpse of their team selection hand first, ahead of Springboks clash
"The aura he has about him is exceptional, not just for his own team but very intimidating for us as the opposition."
The lead-up to Ireland vs. South Africa has already featured a lot of Johnny Sexton chat, and deservedly so, but some of the discourse will be over who backs him up. Jack Crowley looks in good shape to feature but there is also Ross Byrne and (hear us out!) Conor Murray.
In his Monday press briefing at the World Cup, Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus [quoted above] lavished praise on "vital" Johnny Sexton. We all expect the Ireland captain to go deep into Saturday's encounter, fitness and injury fortune allowing, but whoever is tasked with closing the game out will most likely enter with a result still up for grabs.
Jack Crowley and Caelan Doris coming up
The IRFU put assistant coach Mike Catt up for media duty on Sunday but he told reporters that he did not have a chance to speak with the medical staff. To that end, he could offer no real clarity on Dan Sheehan, Jack Conan or concussion worry Finlay Bealham. He did state, though, that Bundee Aki seemed 'grand'.
There will not be any media interactions until this afternoon, following a training run, with scrum coach John Fogarty representing the management. We may get clarity on Bealham, at least, in that briefing. Should the Connacht tighthead miss out, Tom O'Toole would most likely back Tadhg Furlong up.
Ireland have shown a glimpse of their team selection plans, though, ahead of their Thursday match-day 23 announcement. Caelan Doris and Jack Crowley are both being put forward to speak with the press.
This is usually an indication as to who will be involved in the match-day squad. Only twice in the past two years - Andrew Conway in March 2022 and Keith Earls, last week - have players done media on the week of a game and not featured in the squad. With Earls, he was in consideration as bench cover for Tonga, but Robbie Henshaw was cleared to play and came on for a 30-minute run in that 59-16 win.
Crowley has seven caps, so far, in his Ireland career and started two of Ireland's RWC warm-ups, against Italy and Samoa. He was a replacement for the win over Romania but sat out the Tonga game. Should he be selected, it would lean into the notion that Ireland will try to play a high attacking line against a Springboks defence that like to blitz. He excelled in that sort of game-plan when Munster won the United Rugby Championship final against Stormers.
Ross Byrne will be itching to be involved after getting 40 minutes off the bench, against Tonga. "Absolutely delighted," was his post-match reflection.
"It’s something we’re really looking forward to," Byrne said of South Africa. "We’re well aware of what’s going to be coming from them."
The more extreme, risky option is to go with a 6:2 bench split to counter-act the Springboks loading their squad with forwards. Conor Murray could cover outhalf, from the bench, with someone like Earls or Henshaw the other back.
As for Caelan Doris - also up for media duty - he looks locked in at N0.8 for Saturday's game.
HOUSE OF RUGBY WITH DARREN CAVE & CJ STANDER
- Two big calls in the Ireland team that should start against South Africa
- Robbie Henshaw puts personal ambitions to one side with selfless post-match comments
- Bundee Aki shows another side of himself before reminding us all of his best qualities
- Roy Keane cracks jokes with Johnny Sexton and Andy Farrell at Ireland training camp
- Paul O'Connell on his most treasured jersey swap and toughest opponent
- Tommy Bowe backs Jack Crowley as World Cup 'deputy' to Johnny Sexton