Springboks aren’t out to ‘settle scores’ but there is certainly an edge to Ireland Tests

Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus says he would bot trade his Rugby World Cup medals for wins over Ireland. Picture: Glyn Kirk / AFP

Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus says he would bot trade his Rugby World Cup medals for wins over Ireland. Picture: Glyn Kirk / AFP

Published Jul 5, 2024


Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus gazed across the Stade de France in Paris at celebratory Ireland supporters and was overheard saying "this is a bitter one to swallow".

The dust had barely settled on a stirring 2023 Rugby World Cup pool match in which the Irish came from behind to win 13-8 through two penalties from since-retired Johnny Sexton.

South Africa did have the last laugh, recovering to win back-to-back world titles while Ireland were eliminated by New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

The bitter feeling stemmed from that fact that since taking the Springbok coaching reins in 2018, with various titles, Erasmus’s Springboks has beaten every top 10-ranked rugby nation except Ireland.

The 51-year-old former South Africa loose forward gets another chance in Pretoria on Saturday to plot a triumph over his nemesis when they clash in the first match of a two-Test series.

Talking to reporters in Pretoria this week, Erasmus stressed that he was not obsessed with ending a three-match winning streak by Ireland against the record four-time world champions.

"Offered a choice between winning the World Cup twice in a row and a series victory over the British and Irish Lions, or three wins over Ireland, I would take the former one any time.

"Of course we want to beat Ireland on Saturday, and again next weekend in Durban, but there is no talk in our camp about settling scores," said the double World Cup-winning coach.

"The last two matches against the Irish were really close and they deserved the wins. But I would not trade those defeats for the successes the side has achieved.

"I think Ireland probably have some unfinished business -- they want to win this series and replace us at the top of the rankings.

"What we have done this week is pick, on form, a team that we believe can defeat Ireland in the first Test."

The build-up to the clash of titans included some fiery comments from Springboks Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe and Eben Etzebeth.

'Disrespected us'

De Allende claimed the Irish media "completely disrespected us" after South Africa suffered a humiliating 38-3 loss in Dublin seven years ago.

Kolbe added fuel to the fire by saying "there is a lot of talk about Ireland deserving to win the (2023) World Cup. We will see in July."

Etzebeth branded some Irish players "arrogant" after the Springboks' World Cup pool loss as they told him "they would see us again in the final".

South Africa-born Ireland assistant coach Mike Catt dismissed the comments as pre-series "white noise that means nothing".

"We have been pretty successful over the past three times we played them and they are champing at the bit," added the coach.

South Africa have chosen 12 starters from the World Cup final win against New Zealand last year, with Handre Pollard getting the nod over Manie Libbok for the hotly contested fly-half role.

The goal-kicking consistency of Pollard gave him the edge and new Springbok assistant coach and former All Blacks playmaker Tony Brown says he "wants Handre to play a little bit differently".

Libbok did not even make the bench, with Erasmus explaining that the "greater versatility" of one-cap Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu gave the 22-year-old the edge.

The new kid of the block can play fullback, centre and flyhalf, and with reserve scrum-half Grant Williams also able to fill in as a winger, Erasmus opted for a 6-2 forwards-backs split.

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Ireland coach Andy Farrell sprang a surprise by naming uncapped Jamie Osborne at full-back in place of Hugo Keenan, who will be on sevens duty at the Paris Olympics.

A hamstring injury has ruled out star scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park, and Craig Casey takes over with veteran Conor Murray on the bench.

Jack Crowley continues as the successor to Sexton, with Erasmus hailing the new Irish flyhalf for "constantly attacking the gain line and not shying away from tackling".