Springboks vs Ireland | This unlikely rugby rivalry is rather personal

Springboks lock Eben Etzebeth has defended his comments made on a podcast, accusing Ireland of being cocky. Picture: Action Foto Sport / NurPhoto via AFP

Springboks lock Eben Etzebeth has defended his comments made on a podcast, accusing Ireland of being cocky. Picture: Action Foto Sport / NurPhoto via AFP

Published Jul 3, 2024


Outside of Ireland and South Africa, the two-Tests between the two countries is seen as a battle between the current No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the world.

But for supporters of the Springboks and Ireland this means a lot more than just bragging rights. It seems to have become deeply personal, and pressure cooker of emotions may explode on Saturday at a packed Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.

The Springboks’ biggest rugby rivals are the All Blacks, who they beat in the flnal to lift the rugby 2023 Rugby World Cup.

But the Springboks’ only stumble on their way to winning that tournament was their narrow defeat against Ireland, which clearly didn’t sit well with Boks coach Rassie Erasmus if Chasing the Sun 2 is anything to go by.

The full time scenes when the Cranberries’ “Zombie” was belted out clearly irked Erasmus to no end as he climbed into his players during the post-match video session, even threatening to drop some of the team’s big guns such as captain Siya Kolisi, Duane Vermeulen and Eben Etzebeth.

Before and after the game the Springboks’ tactics were slammed by the Irish media, who had digs about the unfairness of the Springboks bench selection, as they went into that match with a 7-1 substitute split in favour of the forwards.

But the Springboks had the last laugh after Ireland were knocked out in the quarter-finals by the All Blacks. In the end, “Zombie!” turned into “Rassie, Rassie, Rassie!” on the stands.

But there is certainly no love lost between the teams, with the Springboks making a social media post highlighting clips of the Irish podcasters and television presenters saying Ireland are the best rugby team in the world, despite the Springboks sitting on top of that tree with a shiny Webb-Ellis trophy to boot.

This week, ahead of the first Test, Springbok lock Etzebeth’s quotes on a podcast a few months ago was back in the spotlight.

During an appearance on The Rugby Pod with Jim Hamilton, Etzebeth accused Ireland of being cocky after that win over the Boks in the World Cup.

"Twelve out of the 23, when I shook their hands, said to me: 'See you in the final,'" Etzebeth said on Hamilton's podcast.

"My immediate thought was: 'Are these guys seriously not thinking about the All Blacks in a World Cup quarter-final when they're playing against them?'

"That remark, of saying they'll meet us in the final, was a big mistake of looking past the most dominant team in the past 20-30 years of Test rugby."

There was outrage in Ireland over the comments, with Etzebeth saying he was targeted by the Irish media after the podcast.

“Yeah, I would say the Irish media definitely targeted me after that incident,” Etzebeth said.

“I said what I said. We will never, after a game, tell a team that we’ll see you in the final if there is so much rugby still to be played.”

The Springboks thrive when they make things personal, as Chasing the Sun 1 and 2 have illustrated after the 2019 and 2023 Rugby World Cups.

The Springboks use emotion as the fire to get them cooking. Another motivating factor is that they haven’t beaten the Irish since Allister Coetzee’s team won a Test series against them on home soil in 2016.

The Irish, though, see themselves as cool and calculated operators. They believe they are technically better than the Springboks and can match them in the physical stakes.

It’s clear that both sides will be up for this and the Tests will certainly be one of the highlights on the rugby calendar in 2024.

Who knows who will win, but one thing is for sure ... the matches will be deeply personal.