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21st Sep 2023

Simon Zebo on the one South African weakness that Ireland can target

Niall McIntyre

Simon Zebo doesn’t see many weaknesses in this South Africa team but, at a push, he does see one.

He reckons that, in Hugo Keenan and Mack Hansen in particular, Ireland have better fetchers than South Africa and that’s why he sees merit in testing them aerially on Saturday as much as Ireland can.

Rassie Erasmus’ side are known for their strength and size in the forwards but while they have beasts of men in the backs, they aren’t quite as tall. Flying right winger Cheslin Kolbe for one, could be targeted, seeing as he stands at just five foot six inches tall.

Left winger Kurt-Lee Arendse is no giant either, standing at five foot eight inches, while Hugo Keenan would be expected to have the better of Damian Willemse, who played at ten when the sides met in November.

“Their defence is amazing,” says BoyleSports ambassador Zebo.

“It’s hard. Aerially, we could climb all over them. You could play that game and be dominant. They’re very disciplined, they’ve huge backs who know what they’re doing.”

“Aerially is probably the only one (weakness),” he says.

Hugo Keenan

The kicking of out-half Manie Libbok is also seen as a weakness and while Zebo loves watching the subtlety he brings to the Saffies’ game, he does reckon that, down the line, Handre Pollard will take over at ten.

“Libbok is a nice change outside of that big heavy pack.

“His goal-kicking probably lets him down a bit. But Pollard will probably come back in for a quarter or a semi. Libbok is a nice counter-balance to Pollard, even though he’s not as proven as durable.

“But he is a very enjoyable player to watch.'”

Meanwhile, if Ireland are to win the game, Zebo reckons that a fast start is crucial.

“I think it’s very important we start well, Rassie always has a huge emphasis on the first 20 minutes,” Zebo says, “Laying down a marker, physicality-wise, so, (for Ireland) it’s about trying to combat that.

“The South African gameplan isn’t really built for chasing a game so if we can start well, you’d be fairly confident if we can grab a lead, they’re not going to get it back.”

“When they (Springboks) do go in front or start well – we could definitely pull it back – but that’s where their game is so strong, and they know it so well.

“They slow the game down, they just turn it into an absolute shit fight and make it incredibly physical. They look for lineouts, they’d almost knock the ball on, on purpose to get some scrums.”

As for the big selection call of Conor Murray or Gibson-Park at scrum half, Zebo found himself somewhere on the fence.

“Obviously, the big one would be Murr (Conor Murray) or (Jamison) Gibson-Park,” Zebo said. “Conor’s form has been excellent. He’s really bossing games, kicking well, passing well.

“He’s sniping around the ruck aggressively, which he hasn’t done in a while, he’s looking confident when he’s carrying the ball now.” 

The 33-year-old added: “It’s just about adding strings to your bow. They’re both quality operators.”

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