Joe Schmidt hopes leap of faith will be rewarded

Ireland will not be handed their place in history, Rory Best knows that.

The Irish skipper has been around long enough to understand if he is to become his country’s first series-winning captain in South Africa, he and his players are going to have to dig deep at Ellis Park today, or in Port Elizabeth next Saturday, and reach out and grab a piece of it themselves.

Ireland have taken that chance already, winning on Springbok soil for the first time in last weekend’s riveting contest at Newlands. Completing the job at the first chance today is a tougher challenge.

For all the heroics of the opening Test, first survival and then execution against the odds following the dismissal of CJ Stander, Best and head coach Joe Schmidt will be acutely aware they met an undercooked and under-par Springbok side finding its feet under new head coach Allister Coetzee.

At altitude this week, against an angry home side determined to right those wrongs, matching the feats of only a handful of sides by winning a series will require a big step up in performance levels.

“We know there’s an opportunity to create history here,” Best said yesterday.

“We took a step forward last week in terms of being the first team to do it.

“Now, we have an opportunity to win a Test series which is unbelievably difficult to do.

"I think that’s probably the big driver this week is it’s going to take a phenomenal performance to win here because there’s a reason why so few teams come here and win a Test series and that’s because it’s hard to do.

“So for us it’s about making sure that we get ourselves right, we do the same homework if not more homework than we did last week on the Springboks and we make sure that we’re in a position that we know the Springboks aren’t going to hand history to us, we have to take it ourselves.”

Ireland will also have to do it with a starting XV few would have imagined Schmidt fielding even a week ago.

Already missing at least seven frontliners before leaving Dublin, an understrength and undermanned side performed miracles to win 26-20 last week.

Seven days on and Schmidt has shuffled his pack still more, making five changes to his first XV, handing a Test debut to Connacht’s Quinn Roux, a lock deemed surplus to provincial coach Pat Lam for the Pro12 semi and final.

Roux will pack down behind Tadhg Furlong, a tighthead prop making his first start for Ireland and while those and the introductions of Stuart Olding and Craig Gilroy to the backline may be deserved, they represent a leap into the unknown for Schmidt.

With a potential series decider in Port Elizabeth there is still a chance to retrieve the situation if his gamble does not pay off but the head coach is not thinking that way, predicting the Boks will be stronger again a further week along in Coetzee’s hands.

While maintaining the spine of the team that won last week he is backing his newcomers to achieve the twin aim of banking experience in the hottest of Test cauldrons and helping to seal a monumental victory.


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