South Africa v Ireland
Today: DHL Newlands Stadium, 4pm
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
TV: Sky Sports 1
Joe Schmidt has picked a side he hopes can prove his doubters wrong as Ireland bid for a first victory in South Africa.
Ireland face the Springboks at Newlands tomorrow with personnel issues aplenty following injuries to fly-half Johnny Sexton, full-back Rob Kearney, wing Tommy Bowe and back-rowers Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier, to name but a few.
The toll has led many to believe the Irish have not a hope of winning a Test match here, let alone a series in the home of the world number three-ranked team but while calling the proposition a “daunting” one, Schmidt is confident the players available to him can step up to the mark.
Naming his side for the first Test yesterday, Schmidt made four changes to the team which ended the Six Nations campaign in March with a win over Scotland.
Leinster’s Jordi Murphy replaces Tommy O’Donnell in O’Brien’s continued absence at openside flanker, Iain Henderson returns to the pack after missing the Six Nations and ousts Donnacha Ryan from the second row while injuries to both Rob Kearney and Simon Zebo have prompted a rejig to the Ireland backline.
Jared Payne moves to his preferred position of full-back from outside centre, with Robbie Henshaw moving out one place from inside centre and Ulster’s Luke Marshall coming in at 12, where he will be expected to link well with provincial team-mate Paddy Jackson, chosen to try and fill Sexton’s boots as fly-half.
Tomorrow’s match will be Jackson’s 14th appearance for Ireland and his first start since last August in the opening World Cup warm-up game against Wales. Since then he subbed in two further warm-ups and again against pool opponents Romania, amassing 40 minutes of Test rugby.
“I know I’m stepping into big shoes and I think I’ve been around long enough to know how things work,” Jackson said yesterday. “I’ve had a chance to step back and see how Joe and Johnny orchestrate things. I’ve been waiting for a chance and now I’ve got it. I’m really looking forward to it, it’s exciting for me.”
Schmidt has surrounded Jackson, 24, with both experience in the form of scrum-half Conor Murray and familiarity in Marshall on his outside shoulder.
“And how tempting was it to leave Jared at No. 13 and have that Ulster connection there,” he added.
“To keep some established combinations was really tempting but you’re juggling and it’s a needs-must situation. They’re really important, I think even having Andrew Trimble on the wing is important.
“It should give Paddy a good bit of confidence and he should have confidence from the way he’s performed.”
Schmidt said Jackson was well aware a Test in South Africa poses a new challenge in his career. “He’s a huge realist and he knows the difference from Pro12 to Europe to Test match to the top three in the world. Even Test match footy, to go to this top three, it is different coming down here.
“It will be different in November as well, particularly going away from our shores to play such a big team (New Zealand in Chicago).
“So, this is invaluable experience for Paddy and a number of other players and we’re pretty excited to see some of them go.
“There’s always that realism there, but that was there last time too (when Ireland played South Africa in Dublin in 2014) so I’m sure the bookies have us as outsiders and I can see why, but upsets happen and we’ve got to believe in ourselves that we are capable of doing that.”
The odds appear stacked against Ireland with a South African side under new coach Allister Coetzee that, for all the talk of a new era, still has nine survivors from last November’s narrow World Cup semi-final defeat to the All Blacks, including six of that day’s pack. Yet Schmidt is refusing to look at this three-Test series as a nothing to lose free hit.
“I think it’s a fantastic job that I get the opportunity to be involved in and you would never bat up for a free hit.
“You work as hard as you can to help prepare a group of players who are incredibly proud to put the jersey on. So there are no freebies. It’s all about working hard.
“I’ve no doubt some people will say I’ve picked the wrong team. I’ve no doubt some people will say that we’ve picked a team that’s going to lose as they did last time and I guess it’s up to us to try to prove them wrong if we can.”
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