Skip to main content

Epic series lies ahead in South Africa, as Ireland aim to finish long season on a high

Image ALT text

A mammoth season that will have stretched into its 13th month by the time Ireland play the first of their two Tests in South Africa, requires one last collective push before everyone enjoys a well-earned breather.

So much water has crossed under the bridge since a large cohort of Irish players began pre-season last June ahead of the World Cup, but the end-point is finally in sight. 

It has been a long slog, yet with a fired-up Springboks side lying in wait in Pretoria on July 6 and Durban on July 13, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell will attempt to dig deep into the well for what is set to be a difficult tour to face the back-to-back World Cup champions, with whom an ever-growing rivalry is simmering away nicely in the background. 

For all that the energy levels may be low given the amount of hard work that has been put in across the course of the campaign, Farrell will also have to pick his players up after a disappointing season for all four provinces. 

Munster and Leinster’s URC semi-final defeats were not part of the script, as dreams of an all-Irish final were dashed, but throughout his tenure, Farrell has been good at flicking the switch from provincial to international mode.

To be fair, the players will not lack motivation for the challenge that lies ahead, as they look to build on their Six Nations title win. 

That’s what Farrell will have been reminding his players when they regrouped in recent days. Despite the various setbacks they may have suffered with their clubs, the last time they played in green together, they were crowned Six Nations champions. 

They haven’t become a bad team overnight, and they will be desperate to prove that is the case by finishing on a high in South Africa. 

The Boks have not been shy in making it clear how much they are targeting these two games against Ireland to remind everyone of their place in the world order. 

Rassie Erasmus’ side still feel as though they do not get the credit they deserve for what they have achieved, with Ireland the only team to beat them in last year’s World Cup, which the Boks went on to retain in France.

Ireland were full value for their win that night at the Stade de France, but South Africa had the last laugh, as they went on to lift the trophy again. 
There might not be any silverware on offer in this shortened series, but there is a huge amount of bragging rights at stake. 

Ireland’s task is not helped by missing some key players such as full-back Hugo Keenan, who will be compete for Ireland Sevens at the Olympics, No 8 Jack Conan, who is unavailable due to personal reasons, while scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, winger Mack Hansen and second-row Iain Henderson are all injured. 

That’s a lot of quality to be without, especially when facing the best team in the world in their own back-yard, yet everything we know about Farrell suggests he will thrive under the pressure and look to use the adversity to Ireland’s favour. 

The inclusion of uncapped Sam Prendergast (21), Jamie Osborne (22) and Cormac Izuchukwu (24) has brought some freshness to the 35-player squad, and while it remains to be seen if the exciting trio get any game-time, they will each benefit massively from the experience of being on tour. 

Ireland will travel to South Africa as firm underdogs, and opening the tour at altitude in Loftus Versfeld will bring back painful memories for the Leinster players, whose season came to a crushing halt at the iconic Pretoria-based stadium. 

Erasmus carefully selected Loftus as the venue for the first Test against Ireland, as the Springboks’ supremo knows only too well that opposition teams tend to struggle in the difficult conditions. 

The hope from an Irish perspective is that with a big chunk of the team having experienced the difficulties of playing at altitude with Leinster and Munster, who beat the Bulls in Loftus back in April, they will know what awaits. 

As ever, the Boks will provide a ferocious test up front, particularly around the set-piece, scrum and lineout, and led by world-class forwards like second-row Eben Etzebeth, back-row Pieter-Steph du Toit and fit-again hooker Malcolm Marx, the hosts will look to exert their physical dominance. 

Fresh after signing a contract extension with Munster, Peter O’Mahony will captain Ireland in South Africa, with the reliable front-row of Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong set for a stern examination.

The tone will be set in that first Test before the show moves on to Durban the following weekend. By that stage, Ireland will be well and truly in the belly of the beast, and if they can manage to cause an upset in Pretoria, it would set things up perfectly heading into the clash at Hollywoodbets Kings Park.

Considering the World Cup took place as part of this season, it was decided that a two-Test summer tour would suffice, as opposed to the usual three. 

Ireland have won the last three games between the two nations, with former Munster boss Erasmus still seeking his first victory over Ireland. Perhaps tellingly, none of those Irish wins took place in South Africa, and while the Boks won the 2016 home series 2-1, the cast of characters on show this time around will be vastly different. 

Taking those aforementioned absentees into account, it will require something special for Ireland to emerge victorious from this daunting tour, but write them off at your peril. 

Two enthralling Tests lie ahead in what will be a fitting way to bring the curtain down on a marathon campaign that has been full of highs and lows. 

Discover more about our rugby partnerships on our Rugby Hub

Latest news