Why Irish teams have turned the tide in SA

Munster are one of the Irish teams who got a win under their belt. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Munster are one of the Irish teams who got a win under their belt. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published Apr 20, 2023


Durban - If you consider how quickly the Irish teams have adapted to playing in South Africa in the United Rugby Championship, it is little wonder why Ireland is the world’s No 1 ranked team and joint favourites with France to win the World Cup later this year.

In last year’s inaugural URC, the SA teams won eight of the nine games played against the four visiting Irish provinces, Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht.

In 2023, that losing streak has been turned upside down and as we go into this weekend’s last round of the URC, the Irish teams have won five out of six and that could become even more impressive if Leinster beat the Bulls at Loftus and Munster win in Durban against the Sharks.

Last week Munster stunned the Stormers in Cape Town and a so-called second-string Leinster side staged a great comeback to beat the Lions in Johannesburg,

Leinster’s attack coach, Sean O’Brien said the dramatically improved results are because it is a case of “adapt or die.” And the Irish teams have adapted.

"Our whole set-up has adapted and so has our mindset,” O’Brien told reporters in Johannesburg. “You have to look at that coming to South Africa is a great experience. The weather is fantastic and gives us a feel-good factor coming here from the cold.

“And it is about taking in the opportunity to put in good performances against very good teams. You don’t want to come over here to soak up some sun or just make up the numbers.

"The Irish teams are definitely getting more used to coming over to South Africa’s warn environment and playing at altitude. The altitude is tough on the lungs when you are not used to it and you have to learn how to adapt to it.”

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony says you have to fight fire with fire in South Africa.

“It is a difficult place to come and play,” O’Mahony said “Being over here is a difficult task, no matter who you play. It’s very physically confrontational. You can beat about the bush all you want but that is rugby in a nutshell. You have to get stuck in or you get taught lessons like the Sharks did to us in the Champions Cup.”

“When you tour South Africa, the whole package is different but at the end of the day it’s a game of rugby and there are things that we can’t control,” added O’Mahony, who has been capped 94 times for Ireland. “I know that the new travel thing is obviously in now and a few years ago you wouldn’t be coming this far, but it’s been great for the game, great for the competition.

“In South Africa, there are factors there for both teams and you’ve got to get on with it. Certainly, they’re difficult but we’re not going to use them as a crutch to say, ‘We’ve lost a few points because it was hot’. I’m certainly not going to sit here and say that anyway. So you’ve got to be ready for it.