As Joe Schmidt named a 44-man squad to take part in a 24-hour training camp this weekend, Conor O’Shea was backing Ireland to cause an upset and beat the Springboks in South Africa this summer.
Ireland will travel to South Africa for a three-Test tour in June seeking to record their first ever win against the Boks in their own backyard.
O’Shea travelled to South Africa with Ireland in 1998 which is remembered for the violent second Test, labelled the ‘Battle of Pretoria’, but he believes that the current team have the fitness levels and physicality to deal with the Boks.
“It is incredibly difficult, it is a great place to tour. If you go to South Africa you’ve got to be prepared to leave your comfort zone and understand that they are the most physical and proud nation,” said O’Shea at the launch of Irish Life’s ‘Get Comfortable Investing’ campaign.
“When you go to Pretoria or Kimberley or all those places, you have the massive Afrikaans men and they’re going to come and come and come.
“I actually think this Irish team or the group will be capable of going out there to spring a surprise because if you’re willing to front up to what’s coming - which Ireland will now and can because they have the fitness levels to do it - it could be a great tour,” added O’Shea.
For his own part, O’Shea remembers little about the no-holds-barred second Test in Pretoria after he was laid out before one of the many skirmishes and fist-fights that occurred in the game 18 years ago.
“My memory is ringing home after the game to talk to my mum and her saying ‘oh, are you okay, where were you?’ and I said ‘It’s okay, I’ve recovered’ and she said ‘well, you weren’t involved in the fight’ and I said ‘that’s because I was knocked out’,” recalled O’Shea.
“I started the fight because I was clotheslined one side of the pitch and the fight took place on the other side of the pitch. I was knocked out but as is the way in those days I got up and played on, which would never happen nowadays, thankfully.”
Regarding the Irish squad which will meet in Johnstown House, Co Meath on Sunday afternoon for the 24-hour mini camp, Schmidt’s selection had some notable absentees but one inclusion that will cause some consternation in Munster.
Peter O’Mahony is one of 10 players called up from the province and the news comes just a day after Munster head coach Anthony Foley intimated that his preference was for the flanker to remain under wraps until September.
O’Mahony has not played since October when he tore a ligament in his right knee during Ireland’s World Cup win over France. Since then the Munster club captain has been recovering from surgery and is now in the final stages of his rehab, although Foley insisted that the 26-year-old would not play for the province this season.
Leinster’s Luke Fitzgerald and Connacht’s Nathan White are both omitted, with the winger dealing with a shoulder knock picked up two weeks ago while the tighthead prop is still recovering from a concussion.
Still, Connacht have six representatives in the squad including second row Quinn Roux and winger Matt Healy, whose electric form has been rewarded with national recognition.
O’Shea was full of praise for the Connacht dynamo who was signed from Ulster Bank League outfit Lansdowne, where the future Italy coach played his club rugby in the ’90s, and the Quins boss now regrets not making better use of his contacts in Dublin.
“You look at the likes of Matt Healy, I’m irritated I didn’t sign him four or five years ago when he was at Lansdowne but there are a few Irish players I wish, in hindsight, I’d signed. But it’s like the property bubble, you look to invest and you realise you should have invested a long time ago,” said O’Shea, who also confirmed that Quins’ interest in signing Ian Madigan was real.
The Leinster out-half will join Top 14 side Bordeaux Begles in the summer but O’Shea made an effort to coax him to London. “God yeah, anyone would be interested in someone like him, he’s a brilliant player,” said O’Shea. “We talked but no [offer was made].”
Donnacha Ryan, CJ Stander, Conor Murray, David Kilcoyne, Keith Earls, Tommy O’Donnell, Peter O’Mahony, Simon Zebo (Munster); Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Matt Healy, Robbie Henshaw, Kieran Marmion, Quinn Roux (Connacht); Sean Cronin, Tadgh Furlong, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, David Kearney, Rob Kearney, Ian Madigan, Fergus McFadden, Jack McGrath, Luke McGrath, Jordi Murphy, Sean O’Brien, Eoin Reddan, Garry Ringrose, Mike Ross, Rhys Ruddock, Jonathan Sexton, Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner, Josh van der Flier (Leinster); Rory Best, Craig Gilroy, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Stuart Olding, Jared Payne, Andrew Trimble (Ulster)
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