The mood in South African rugby is understandably glum after the Springboks lost 57-0 to the All Blacks at the weekend, but none of that worried Leinster backline coach Girvan Dempsey yesterday.
The Boks’ thrashing was the heaviest in their 126-years of playing Test rugby while the Cheetahs and Southern Kings are among the stragglers in PRO14 and yet to give much indication that they are adding value to the tournament.
Dempsey though, knows firsthand how difficult playing rugby in South Africa can be, having been on the losing end of two Tests in 2004. One of those was played in Bloemfontein, which will host Leinster’s second tour match against the Cheetahs on Friday evening (Sky Sports, 8pm).
“I recall it being an incredible atmosphere in Bloemfontein and being on the bus and seeing huge crowds around the ground with barbeques,” Dempsey said.
“Straight from the kick-off I was smashed and the crowd got behind the home team as a consequence. That initial shock was massive but it was a great atmosphere.”
It’s unlikely that the Toyota Park in Bloemfontein will be anywhere near to its 45,000 capacity, but it could still be an intimidating atmosphere, especially considering that it’s close to 5,000 feet above sea level.
“We’ve put a lot of thought to dealing with the altitude and we’re fortunate that we have a strong sports science team with a huge wealth and depth of knowledge and they have put systems in place to deal with it,” Dempsey said of the challenge of Friday night’s venue.
“That was why we stayed in Johannesburg (which is close to 6000 feet) last week, so we could train at altitude and get used to it.
“It will test fitness levels later on in the game.
“We’ve worked hard on our fitness and I don’t believe altitude will be a big factor once players have experienced the initial shock of it.”
To make matters more interesting the Cheetahs recorded their first win of the campaign – a rollicking 54-39 try feast against Italian side Zebre – last weekend, which will give them confidence.
There was enough in that attacking performance from the home team to concern Dempsey, although he quickly pointed out that the Cheetahs conceded five tries as well.
Leinster won’t change their attacking mindset if a turnover from deep is there to be exploited and with Jamison Gibson-Park and Isa Nacewa back with the squad after their visa mishap last week, there is renewed confidence of breaching the line.
“They’re both in great shape, positive and looking forward to getting back into the squad,” Dempsey said of the two returnees.
“They bring massive experience and in Jammo’s case he has been here before having played Super Rugby for the Hurricanes.
“We won’t be looking to slow the game down at all. We’re happy with our gameplan so we won’t adapt it because of altitude.
“But we do know that we will be up against it because the Cheetahs like to play at pace, especially at home.
“So we will have to manage that tempo, but when it’s on, we will up the tempo.
“There is probably an advantage to getting out to South Africa first because as the tournament goes on, the Cheetahs and Kings are going to improve and it will be even tougher to play out here later in the season.”
The Cheetahs possess a strong set piece and their lineout stats were among the best in Super Rugby – something that didn’t escape lock Ross Molony.
“We will come up some good players at the weekend but we have been in camp a while and put in some good work,” Molony said.
“It will be a tough lineout challenge, but we have had time to work on our game and hopefully we’ll bring something to that aspect as well.”
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