Ireland making plans to combat the Springboks’ ‘complete’ player

David Skippers
James Ryan and Eben Etzebeth image RWC 2023.jpg

Ireland's James Ryan and Eben Etzebeth of South Africa.

Ireland second-row and vice-captain James Ryan wants to impose himself on the Springboks’ juggernaut pack on Saturday and is keen to go head-to-head with veteran counterpart Eben Etzebeth.

Bok enforcer Etzebeth sustained a shoulder injury in his side’s first encounter at the global showpiece and was ruled out of their next match against Romania.

However, he has recovered from that setback and returns to the run-on side for their Pool B decider with the men from the Emerald Isle. Much of the talk in the build-up to the match revolves around South Africa’s seven-one split of forwards and backs.

Ryan is focused on his own game

Ryan admitted to having “huge respect” for Etzebeth but is fully focused on delivering a fine individual performance at the Stade de France in Paris.

“He’s one of the best locks in the world, definitely, without doubt,” said Ryan. “He’s pretty much the complete second-row.

“He’s got a good work rate, a good set-piece player, very good in the air in terms of line-out defence, a great feel for the game. A huge player for them.

“You’ve obviously got huge respect for them but I think big games are about making sure you impose yourself on the game.

“Respect them and understand their strengths and everything but you’ve got to bring it back to yourself and making sure you get all your bits right so that you can put in a good account of yourself.”

Ireland warmed up for their clash with the world champions by sealing convincing wins versus against Romania and Tonga to extend their winning streak to 15 matches.

Andy Farrell’s side have now won 27 of their past 29 Tests, including November’s 19-16 victory over South Africa at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Ryan is preparing for Ireland’s biggest challenge of their Pool B Rugby World Cup campaign and admits there is increased pressure.

“It’s obviously just a big step up,” said the 27-year-old.

“They’re the reigning world champions, we have a huge amount of respect for them and we know we’ve got to really step it up this week.

“There’s that added little pressure that comes with the week but we’re very excited.

“Getting to play the world champions in Paris, Stade de France, World Cup week, 30,000 Irish supporters in the stadium, it is very exciting. It’s a cool week to be involved in.

“There’s an added bit of edge all week but at the same time it’s just an amazing opportunity.”

Ryan appears to be in line to take over the captaincy from the retiring Johnny Sexton after the tournament in France.

The veteran fly-half has begun the competition in record-breaking form and last weekend he moved past Ronan O’Gara to become his country’s all-time leading points scorer.

Ryan described the longevity of his 38-year-old captain a “pretty ridiculous”.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the first game of the season, a URC game or if it’s the World Cup final, he just shows up every week with the same competitive spirit,” he said.

Keen to improve

“He just wants to get better and he wants everyone else to get better.

“He is an unbelievable leader and he makes a big difference to the team when he’s in there.

“He probably is a little bit of an inspiration. He’s 38 and to be playing in a World Cup at fly-half at 38 and to be playing as well as he is, it is pretty ridiculous.

“I’m going to get a bit of a slagging for this because I’m bigging him up quite a bit but he’s been great.”

READ MORE: Springboks back controversial 7-1 bench against Ireland while Eben Etzebeth returns