Both sides may be short of some familiar figures, but Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer and flyhalf Pat Lambie expect fireworks when South Africa face Ireland at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road today.
The first Test of the Springboks’ northern hemisphere tour is against a side that have beaten them three times out of the last four occasions they have met in Dublin, but the visitors are slight favorites this weekend. To understand why, one need look no further than the preamble to this contest, which has been more focused on those not in the two starting lineups than those who are taking part.
Ireland, thrashed 60-0 last time out by world champions New Zealand in Hamilton in June, are missing through injury six of the first names usually written on coach Declan Kidney’s team sheet in Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, Rob Kearney, Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien and Rory Best.
Meyer, for his part, is also without several stars in Bismarck du Plessis, Heinrich Brussow, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Pierre Spies, Jacques Potgieter, Frans Steyn and Bryan Habana.
However, Meyer has an element of consistency, with just three changes from the side that faced New Zealand in the last game of the Rugby Championship.
Pat Lambie starts in place of the experienced Morne Steyn at flyhalf, a position that has become a major issue for the ’Boks and one that has cost them dearly in recent Tests.
With just 15 caps, and not many of them at No. 10, Lambie may appear a relatively risky call, but Meyer is hoping he can transfer his Currie Cup form to the international stage.
“I want to see what he can do, I’m excited to see what he can bring to the team,” Meyer said. “He played very well in the last few weeks of the Currie Cup and hopefully he can bring that momentum with him on Saturday.”
“He has really impressed me recently and his goal-kicking has been superb in difficult conditions, he is in the zone, which is what ultimately got him the start,” Meyer added.
Lambie made his Test debut in South Africa’s 23-21 win in Dublin two years ago and hopes to cement his place at No. 10 with another memorable visit.
“I’m very excited. I have very special memories of playing in Dublin and hopefully I can have more good memories,” he said. “Both sides are coming off defeats by New Zealand and looking to make things right. They’ll probably both be disappointed with their last performance, so I think you can expect fireworks from Ireland and South Africa.”
J.P. Pietersen comes in for the injured Bryan Habana, while Juandre Kruger takes over at lock from Andries Bekker, in the last of the changes from the team that lost 32-16 last time out to the All Blacks.
Meyer forecast a tough game for his team, despite Ireland’s weakened hand.
“I expect an unbelievable challenge from them,” he said. “They are a well-balanced side and, even though they are missing a number of their more experienced players, their youngsters are good players.”
“I watched the games against New Zealand and they were, in a sense, unlucky in the second Test. You don’t go there and perform like that [Ireland only lost the first Test 22-19] if you’re a bad team,” he added.
Jamie Heaslip captains Ireland for the first time, while the South Africa-born hooker Richardt Strauss will make his Test debut against a Springbok side where the opposing hooker is his cousin, Adriaan Strauss.
“South Africa are a very confrontational side and they don’t make any bones about that,” No. 8 Heaslip said.
“They got one over us last time. We don’t like losing in our back garden. It will be a full house on Saturday and the place will be rocking. We want to give the Irish people something to cheer about,” he added.