One would be hard pressed to recall an Irish line-up as injury-hit as the one that will tackle South Africa at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
One would be hard pressed to recall an Ireland side as injury-hit as the one that will tackle the Springboks at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday.
Missing Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Rob Kearney, Sean O'Brien, Rory Best and Stephen Ferris means their depth is seriously tested. Many home fans would have that sextet as being the Irish's first names down on the sheet, so there lies the concern for coach and supporters alike.
It is therefore unsurprising that the Boks enter this game as favourites – and as some believe a touch lacking in respect for their wounded opponents.
Everyone remembers the one out of the coaching manual that states “do not do your opposition's teamtalk for them”. But at a press conference this week, Bok JP Pietersen definitely put his foot in it. Asked about the backline he is set to face this week, his words went a little like this: “I've played against Tommy Bowe and I think the other winger is David Skrela or something, he plays for Ulster.” He meant Andrew Trimble in a blunder of note.
Granted many have leapt on this as being an act of cockiness over not researching their respective rival but it's worth noting that South Africa does struggle with their broadcasting of northern rugby, particularly the PRO12. Whether that's an excuse is a grey area to debate.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney may well use that gem before kick-off as he looks around a dressing room that's almost unrecognisable from their first XV. Simon Zebo starts the match at full-back in the absence of Kearney, Keith Earls replaces O'Driscoll, Chris Henry and Peter O'Mahony come in for Sean O'Brien and Stephen Ferris while Mike McCarthy and Richardt Strauss – the latter facing his cousin – replace the crocked O'Connell and Best.
So are they set for something like the hiding they received from the All Blacks in the third Test at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton earlier this year? It shouldn't be that bad but the notion that Ireland are severely under-strength and underdone coinciding with the Boks improving and looking ready to click at any moment does suggest the visitors have a big edge.
Teams news sees Jaco Taute rightly retained in the number thirteen jersey while the performance of just-turned 21-year-old Eben Etzebeth in the recent Currie Cup final in Durban was a sight to behold in terms of carries and workrate. If the northern hemisphere does not know about what the Western Province forward is about, they will by December.
Heyneke Meyer's outfit is definitely stronger on paper and the back-row is a well-balanced trio of Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen, who are likely to cause the Irish a lot of problems in defence, with Etzebeth and hooker Adriaan Strauss assisting.
Further back there remains some gripes over the non-selection of Juan de Jongh at outside centre, which would allow Taute to slot into the full-back shirt he performed so well in during Super Rugby for the Lions. But it seems that Meyer is set on Taute's future position – and that of Zane Kircher – whilst JP Pietersen returns in place of recently crowned South African Rugby Player of the Year, Bryan Habana, for his wing battle with Ireland's…say it with me.
Ones to watch:
For Ireland: Declan Kidney will hope Cian Healy backs up his June form against what looks to be a formidable Springbok eight. Elsewhere, and it will be interesting to see how Simon Zebo goes at the back in the absence of Rob Kearney. A strong performance could see him cement his position in the matchday 22 for the long-term while the leadership of Jamie Heaslip will also have to be strong alongside the organiser of the backs, Jonathan Sexton. Unlike Heaslip, Sexton has some familiarity around him and if he wants to nail down that British & Irish Lions jersey, Saturday against the Springboks is a great place to start.
For South Africa: Much to the delight of those in Durban and also a large segment of Springbok supporters, Pat Lambie has been given the fly-half reins for this opener. In the absence of injury victim Johan Goosen and ahead of Morne Steyn and Elton Jantjies, Lambie will offer more of a running threat than we saw from Steyn in the recent Rugby Championship. Also worth watching will be Jaco Taute, who is given a second chance in the 13 jersey – it won't be against Brian O'Driscoll which would've been a good watch – so expect the stocky back to push on to bigger and better things in Dublin this weekend.
Head-to-head: It will be a family affair at hooker in Dublin as Richardt and Adriaan Strauss pack down in respective number two shirts. For a long time they were team-mates in the Free State with the Cheetahs before the former was called over by Leinster and Ireland. Both hard workers – with Adriaan one of the busiest carriers in the business – their battle is one that the television commentators are sure to mention before the national anthems.
2010: South Africa won 23-21 at Lansdowne Road
2009: Ireland won 15-10 at Croke Park
2006: Ireland won 32-15 at Lansdowne Road
2004: Ireland won 17-12 at Lansdowne Road
2004: South Africa won 26-17 at Newlands
2004: South Africa won 31-17 at Free State Stadium
Prediction: Injuries are a massive problem for Ireland and with the Boks having recently been in camp for the Rugby Championship, there is that feeling that if they click it could be long evening for a home outfit that is unfamiliar in terms of partnerships. We expect replacement hooker Schalk Brits and flank Marcell Coetzee to cause some problems late in the piece and if the Springboks can build a lead, it could mean a margin of at least 15.
Ireland: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Iain Henderson, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ronan O'Gara, 23 Fergus McFadden.
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 JuandrÃ© Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 MornÃ© Steyn, 22 Juan de Jongh, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Date: Saturday, November 10
Kick-off: 17:30 GMT
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Referee: Wayne Barnes (