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21st Sep 2023

“We are going to physically mangle these guys” – South Africans fire warning to Ireland

Patrick McCarry

One of those involved previously referred to the 2021 British & Irish Lions as “hobbits”.

We are building nicely to a Saturday night clash between Ireland and South Africa – the world’s two top-ranked sides. Some folks are getting a tad over-excited, already.

South African rugby fans have every right to feel confident, every time a World Cup rolls around. Having missed the first two editions, the Springboks have competed in seven World Cups and won three of them. They are the reigning world champs, beat the Lions in 2021 and have a lot of players that would comfortably slot into a World XV.

Many in South Africa will back their side to turn Ireland over, in the Pool B encounter, but perhaps not as confident as Mark Keohane and Zelim Nel. Their recent show portrayed Ireland as a technically excellent side but one that are walking into a beatdown, on Saturday.

South Africa

South Africa to “physically mangle” Ireland

In the ‘Keo & Zels Show’, hosted by South Africa Rugby Mag, veteran rugby scribe Mark Keohane and Zelim Nel, editor of the magazine, have some nice things to say about Ireland but both ooze with confidence for the task at hand.

Ireland defeated the Springboks 19-16, last November, and while Keohane lists it as ‘a very, very good Test match’, he feels Jacques Nienaber’s side had it there for the taking.

“At the time, I think we both said, not that the Boks were holding something back but… it’s easier to go into this game and say, ‘We lost the last time, Ireland are No.1 in the world, the expectations should be on them to win.’

Much has been made of Nienaber and Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus pushing ahead with this 7:1 bench split, loading it with seven forwards and scrumhalf Cobus Reinach.

While some in Ireland have said ‘there’s no craft to it’ and given similar takes, regarding that bench split, Nel believes it is more mind games for Ireland to dice with. He feels that if South Africa really feared Ireland matching their physicality, they would have selected even bigger squad forwards, like Marvin Orie (6-foot-7) and Duane Vermeulen (6-foot-5), over the likes of Kwagga Smith (5-foot-11) and Deon Fourie (5-foot-9).

“The issue here,” said Nel, “is when you get in a street fight, your jab pretty much means nothing. That’s for boxing. And Ireland are going to get into a street fight at the weekend.

“All of the peripheral stuff – their form, technique, their attack – it’s valuable and important but if they cannot cope with the physicality of the Boks, then a lot of that just falls away. I don’t think Ireland can cope with the physicality of the Boks, and neither does Rassie. If he did, he wouldn’t pick three mini forwards on the bench. He would load up with the biggest guns he has, and they haven’t done that.

“We are going into the match against Ireland, the number one team, who we’ve played once and lost once, under Rassie. I think we’ve [won] four of the last 11 matches against Ireland. And we’re going in with one back on the bench, a scrumhalf who has only played scrumhalf, then two mini fetchers and a mini fetcher that [covers] hooker. So, we can’t say the Boks have a hell of a lot of respect for this Irish team.

“I’m sure there are technical reasons for those picks, but wee feel like we are going to physical mangle these guys, this weekend. It’s clear.”

Mark Keohane went on to say the South Africa bench is much stronger than anything Ireland can throw at them. “I rate the Munster monsters, Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman, as the best lock pair in Irish rugby. They’re on the bench, against Ireland!”

In fairness, pundits and talking heads can get parochial on sporting matters, especially as big games draw near. On the latest House of Rugby both myself and Darren Cave sided with Ireland for Saturday’s match.


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