By Warren Gatchell
The bulk of this Springbok squad is composed of Western Province and Natal Sharks players that were knocking lumps out of each other only a fortnight ago in the domestic Currie Cup final in Durban.
Dublin now has an even higher priority as this hasn’t been the best of years for the tourists making any experimental selections out of the question.
The team that arrived on these shores a few days ago is the strongest available squad to coach Heyneke Meyer.
It must be noted that 2012 has been the longest Southern Hemisphere season in its professional history due to the expansion of Super Rugby and the creation of the Rugby Championship and it should come as no surprise that injuries have forced the hand of the selectors.
The Boks are without the following regular first-choice players due to injury or overseas club commitments: Bismarck du Plessis, Schalk Burger, Heinrich Brussouw, Juan Smith, Pierre Spies, Fourie du Preez, Francois Steyn and Jacque Fourie.
Fly-half continues to be an issue with Patrick Lambie being the fourth choice this year.
"Many a rugby critic back south in the Republic would tout Lambie as the fix to the impotent Boks backline"
Many a rugby critic back south in the Republic would tout Lambie as the fix to the impotent Boks backline problems yet his tactical awareness and marshalling of the forwards hasn’t been deemed good enough, up to now.
A largely youthful Boks backline increases Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar role at scrum-half in taking pressure off of Lambie as the general with former Munster centre Jean de Villiers captaining the side for the tenth time this year.
Full-back Jaco Taute starts at outside centre in only his third Test, where his defensive inexperience in the position will surely be targeted just as New Zealand did in early October.
The impact of Bryan Habana’s injury is lessened somewhat by the return of JP Pietersen with Francois Hougaard filling the alternate wing position along with the dependable Zane Kirchner at 15.
Richardt Strauss’ selection after qualifying for Ireland on residency grounds will make for an interesting contest where he will face his opposite and cousin Adriaan Strauss who starts at hooker for the tourists.
Prop forwards Jannie du Plessis and Beast Mtwararira will target Ireland’s set piece with South African-born former France international prop Pieter de Villiers tutelage as scrum coach contributing to a resurgence of what has been a traditional South African strength.
Eben Etsebeth, at only 21, could grow and ultimately fill the void left by Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha. What coach Heyneke Meyer is uncertain of is who will partner Etsebeth with Juandre Kruger getting the nod this time around in what appears to be a horses for courses approach in his lock pairing selection policy.
The loose trio of Bath’s Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen might collectively not have as many caps as Ireland’s new captain Jamie Heaslip, yet to discount their potential influence on the game would be reckless.
"Louw has the pilfering skills to affect the pace of the game and Alberts and Vermeulen are two hugely physical players"
Louw has the pilfering skills to affect the pace of the game and Alberts and Vermeulen are two hugely physical players that wear down defenders and will target the 12/13 channel of Gordon D’Arcy and Keith Earls.
Expect to see a limited yet effective exertion of forward control, keeping the battles in the close quarters rather than attacking out wide where Ireland’s defensive system and counter attacking talent could damage and negate any territorial gains made.
To have a chance at beating Ireland at the Aviva, the Springbok heavies need to bring their ‘A’ game and shut down the space and attacking opportunities of a team that has had their number in 3 out of the last four tests.
This game, like so many before will be decided up front with a reshuffled Boks backline largely filling the role of defenders.
It’s a close one to call and were it not for the change of jersey I could cheekily have favoured the team in green.
Verdict: Springboks by 5