Ireland have been challenged to make a statement during their three-Test series in South Africa and lay down a marker for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Joe Schmidt’s injury-hit squad have arrived in Cape Town for Saturday’s opening Test against the Springboks at Newlands looking for a first win on South African soil but forwards coach Simon Easterby has stressed there is an important, longer-term objective to the mission.
With World Cup planning already under way for Japan 2019, Easterby believes a first semi-final appearance in the competition will believes that, despite four wins over the Springboks in Dublin since 2004, winning for the first time in South Africa after seven previous attempts starting with a first meeting here in 1961 would represent a crucial stepping stone.
“It’s important we beat a team away from home, a Southern Hemisphere side away from home.
“If we want to do better than get to the quarter-final of the next World Cup then we’re going to have to do that, beat a Southern Hemisphere team outside of Dublin,” Easterby said yesterday.
“So we need to start to build that now, not in three years’ time when it comes to the Wo rld Cup. That’s got to be something that we’re striving towards now. Those home games are slightly different than when you tour as well. It’s a different mentality but a fantastic challenge for everybody.”
Former back rower Easterby played in two of those seven meetings in South Africa, losing both Tests on the last Ireland tour here in 2004 and he has told a squad missing experienced players including Johnny Sexton, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney that they are about to face a big-match atmosphere like nothing they have previously experienced.
“The players understand it’s going to be different to what we’ve been used to. The Six Nations is an incredible tournament with a lot of parochial rivalry but down here we’re coming into their backyard and we’re a long way from home. We want to come here and lay down a marker and make a statement over the next three weeks. I’m sure individuals will want to do that, those that get selected for the first Test and the squad as a whole want to leave here feeling like we’ve achieved something.”
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