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25th Sep 2023

Sam Warburton says what most of this Ireland squad must’ve been thinking before Paris win

Patrick McCarry

Irish rugby

“I thought James Lowe was superb.”

Following Ireland’s weekend win over South Africa, it took Sam Warburton to put into words what many in and around Andy Farrell’s squad must have allowed themselves to think.

Ireland have now won 28 of their last 30 Test matches, stretching back to February 2021, picked up two Triple Crowns, a Six Nations Grand Slam, an away series win in New Zealand and have beaten South Africa (twice), England (three times), France, Wales (twice), Australia and more.

Ireland have been top of the world rankings for over a year now and have shown they can play expansive rugby, yet mix it up and get physical when needs be. They can win ugly, beautifully and most ways in between. On Saturday, Sam Warburton summed it all up better than we could wish to.

Sam Warburton

Sam Warburton on Ireland

In the ITV studio with Brian O’Driscoll and Rory Best, former Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton spoke of how Ireland are still getting underestimated.

He also raised a solid point about the Springbok coaches tinkering a little too much for his liking. Warburton commented:

“Ireland have been putting teams away for the last 18 months, but a lot of people from outside Ireland have been writing them off. I bet Andy Farrell was thinking, ‘Why is no-one backing us? We’ve beaten all these teams’.

“But the crux of it was, if that was a World Cup final, the South African coaches would have to die on their sword – not having a specialist 10 or kicker and not having that [specialist] hooker at those critical moments.”

Standing alongside Warburton, Best reflected that ‘in both regards (hooker and kicker) it back-fired’ for South Africa. Handrè Pollard is back in the Bok squad but he was not deemed fit enough to feature in the matchday 23. South Africa also had to use occasional hooker Deon Fourie to back up frontliner Bongi Mbonambi, as Pollard [and outhalf] had been called up to replace injured hooker Malcolm Marx.

“There’s no going back on it now,” said O’Driscoll. “They need to wait for another injury for someone to come in… Bongi is not an 80-minute guy.”

“I think for South Africa,” Warburton pondered, “they did this for an experiment. They know they’ve beaten Scotland already and probably think they’ll go through… maybe they are that confident in their ability.”

Sam Warburton

Bryan Habana on Springbok calls

“Obviously, as a South African, I am absolutely gutted,” said fellow ITV pundit, Bryan Habana.

“But as as rugby lover, this is phenomenal… We had some good opportunities and looks at goal. That was a massive discussion, coming into the game. Handre Pollard was in the squad but not in the side. We had the high-risk, high-reward 7:1 bench split. A couple of late mistakes cost the Springboks dearly… credit to the Irish and the way they defended. They had the massive support of this crowd behind them but their skill-set pulled them through.”

On the South African squad having goal-kicking issues and no lock-tight plan for it, Habana commented:

“Listen, it has been a problem for the past two and a half years. Handrè Pollard has come back in (the squad), Faf de Klerk has taken on a big responsibility… you definitely can’t win a World Cup like that. We were definitely found wanting there.”

Asked if Ireland were now genuine World Cup contenders – as if they had not already shown their credentials – Habana responded, “100% – not only are they the number one team in the world, they have incredible depth and are great at managing the situation.

“They probably weren’t good at their set-plays – the lineout went wrong and they gave up a couple of scrum penalties – and they weren’t as clinical as we know this Irish team to be, but they found a way to win. Previous Irish teams would not have found a way to win, especially against combative sides like these Springboks. You’ve got to take your hat off to what Johnny Sexton and his boys have done.”

As much as those Warburton comments about Ireland were nail-on-the-head, the Wales legend and former Wallabies star still predicted France would end up as World Cup winners.


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