Ireland back rower Rhys Ruddock is expecting the wounded Springboks to increase their physicality further when they seek vengeance in Saturday's second Test at Ellis Park, writes Simon Lewis.
Ruddock could be in line for promotion off the bench in the absence of the suspended CJ Stander when head coach Joe Schmidt names his team on Thursday. He has twice faced South Africa and not lost, starting against them in Dublin in 2014 and scoring a try in that November series victory on home soil.
The Ireland squad training during the week in South Africa.
The 25-year-old Leinster forward also played out the final minutes at Newlands last Saturday, helping to bundle JP Pietersen into touch to end the game and secure a famous 26-20 win in the opening Test, Ireland's first success on South African soil.
Like the rest of the Irish squad he is preparing for an angry Springboks response.
“I was only on there for a short period (last Saturday) but every time I play against the South Africans it is something that you probably notice more than any other team; just the physicality of the game,” Ruddock said.
“In terms of the way we played we probably brought an added physicality and that’s got to be the focus again this week in order to be able to stick with a team like South Africa.
“But we are probably expecting South Africa to lift their level of physicality. We know that if we can improve that small margin, maybe with 15 on the field and being able to stick to our systems defensively, we can hopefully cope with that physicality.”
Schmidt has a number of back-row options to consider in seeking a replacement for blindside flanker Stander, sent off after 23 minutes in Cape Town last weekend and handed a one-match ban on Monday night.
He could make a straight swap and hand Ruddock his fourth start for Ireland in what would be his 12th Test appearance. There is also the temptation to switch Iain Henderson from the second row to number six and bringing in either Donnacha Ryan or Ultan Dillane to partner Devin Toner at lock.
There is also a chance he may hand a debut to Ulster's Sean Reidy.
Whatever Schmidt decides, Ruddock believes Ireland have plenty of work to do on the training field this week from their base in the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton.
“The first thing we did when we got to Joburg was to review the game and although there was a lot of positives, there were also a lot of things to work on. I think that was the key message going into the start of the week, that there’s still another sort of 10 or 15 per cent that we can develop early in this week into a good performance on the weekend.
“And then the other message is that we know we’re at our best when we’re a little bit fearful of what the team we’re going to be facing is about and what they’re capable of, and that’s why it’s no different this week.
“We know that South Africa are probably better than they were last week and we know they’re a difficult team to beat when we’re on the top of our game. So all the focus is going to be on preparing ourselves to the best of our ability, having a clear plan going into the game and being able to execute under the pressure that we’re going to feel on Saturday.”