Battered Ireland look to weather injury storm
November 8, 2012
Ireland coach Declan Kidney has been forced to rotate his option for their opener against South Africa © Getty Images
An injury-ravaged Ireland will kick off their end of year campaign against South Africa in Dublin on Saturday.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney's plans have been decimated by injuries to a host of front line stars with centre and captain Brian O'Driscoll (ankle), hooker Rory Best (neck), flanker Sean O'Brien (hip) and fullback Rob Kearney (back) all set to miss the November internationals entirely. In addition, lock Paul O'Connell has been sidelined for the clash with the Springboks with a back problem and flanker Stephen Ferris is sidelined with an ankle injury and may only feature against the Pumas.
The absence of such pivotal and inspirational players will heap pressure on a squad looking to bounce back from a 3-0 series defeat to New Zealand in the summer. Their hopes of upsetting the IRB rankings and boosting their chances of a preferable Rugby World Cup pool draw also appear remote.
However, the battle-hardened Boks enter this game with some injury concerns of their own with winger Bryan Habana and hooker Bismarck du Plessis among those sidelined for their end of year tour. Two victories during their recent Rugby Championship campaign will have been seen as a poor return and it could have been much worse had they not conjured a great escape to earn a draw against Argentina. As a result, Heyneke Meyer's side will be under a great deal of pressure themselves to offer a return to top form.
Ireland - Player to Watch: Richardt Strauss will look to silence those doubters who questioned his qualification on residency grounds with a big showing but he will get anything but an easy ride from his compatriots.
Ireland - Team News: Ireland have named a side showing eight changes to that beaten by New Zealand in June. No.8 Jamie Heaslip is handed the captaincy for the first time while South African-born hooker Richardt Strauss makes his debut having qualified on residency grounds. Mike McCarthy steps in at lock with Chris Henry getting the nod at openside and Peter O'Mahony shifting to the blindside. Gordon D'Arcy links up with Keith Earls in midfield. And there is also a new-look back three with Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble on the wings and Simon Zebo at fullback. Among the replacements, forwards David Kilcoyne, Michael Bent and Iain Henderson are all in line to make their international debuts should they be called into the game.
South Africa - Player to Watch: Pat Lambie has been tasked with invigorating the Springboks but can he carry his impressive Currie Cup form onto the Test match stage?
South Africa - Team News: The Boks' team shows four changes from the one that lost to New Zealand in their final match of the Rugby Championship. Lambie is handed the playmaking role ahead of the injured Johan Goosen, Juandre Kruger comes into the second-row in place of the injured Andries Bekker, JP Pietersen replaces sidelined winger Bryan Habana and CJ van der Linde is a late replacement for Tendai Mtawarira.
Key Battle: Ireland's Jonathan Sexton will be hoping to dominate his relatively inexperienced South African rival Pat Lambie. The Boks' playmaker will be making only his second start in the No.10 shirt while Sexton is much more familiar to the playmaker's duties. Both will rely heavily on their respective packs and the delivery of their No.9s. The Boks may hold the edge on both of those counts with scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, a star performer for Irish province Ulster this season, sure to be a pivotal figure.
Trivia: Ireland hooker Richardt Strauss is set to go head-to-head - quite literally - with his cousin and South Africa hooker Adriaan Strauss.
Stats: Jamie Heaslip is the 101st player to captain his country and he was the 1001st player to be capped by the Irish.
"I was in Tesco and I didn't know what to do with myself. I felt like going out and celebrating. It felt like my first cap again."
"I've always thought Ruan to be a superb, superb talent, but he's never got the chance to play in his best position. With respect to the coaches who've gone before me, he's always been moved around the backline, 10, 15 and nine and he's never been allowed to settle."
Prediction: Ireland look vulnerable and a familiar face in the form of Ulster star Ruan Pienaar will help orchestrate their downfall.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
ESPN looks at the forthcoming season of the Guinness PRO12 and assesses how each of the 12 teams will do
"Like the Treaty of Versailles, despite all the promises, the new Participation Agreement is certainly not the final solution." John Taylor writes
"We know where we are going and we know where we want to get but how long that will take is anybody's guess." David Humphreys on his plans for Gloucester
Jim Mallinder and Justin Burnell were sat on the same top table, but in different circumstances. Tom Hamilton reports on the Aviva Premiership season launch