by Brendan Cole

Depth is a key factor in this Guinness Series clash as both Ireland and South Africa take the field missing a raft of first-choice players.

The knocks have mounted up for Ireland over the last few months, and as everyone knows by now, Rob Kearney, Sean O’Brien, Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll, Rory Best and Stephen Ferris are all ruled out.

Of the real pillars of the side, only Mike Ross and Jonathan Sexton remain.

No matter what happens, it should be remembered that South Africa are without even more top quality players.

Frans Steyn, Bryan Habana, Johan Goosen, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Bismarck du Plessis, Andries Bekker, Jacques Potgieter, Heinrich Brussow and Pierre Spies are among those missing out through injury. Fourie Du Preez and Jaque Fourie are unavailable because they are playing in Japan.

The Boks are down 12 top players to Ireland’s six. Again, it is something to keep in mind during the post-match analysis, no matter what way this Test match goes.

In terms of the unit battles, Ireland have picked a quick, mobile pack against a heavier and more powerful looking Springbok eight.

It is refreshing to see Mike McCarthy selected alongside Donnacha Ryan in the second row. Ryan brings an abrasive quality to the ruck contest, while McCarthy is a mobile and destructive defender capable of covering plenty of ground. His mean streak could also come in handy.

The problem is that both men have spent as much time at blindside as they have in the second row and, along with Cian Healy and Richardt Strauss, are on the small side.

The pressure Eben Etzebeth, Jannie Du Plessis and Tendai Mtawirara will be able to put on Ross and Healy is of major concern. Every prop, no matter how good, has a tipping point and if Ireland start wobbling early, it could start and end there.

The Boks, of all nations, would have no issue with crushing their way to victory through the scrum contest alone.

If Ireland can cope in the scrum and get the ball flying about in wider areas, they have a quick and energetic back-row in which Chris Henry is given another chance at openside position alongside Peter O’Mahony and new captain Jamie Heaslip. Wider out, Gordon D’Arcy, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo are all steppers rather than power runners.

Much will fall to Sexton and Conor Murray, who must gel better than they have in the past for Ireland to have a chance.

This is not an XV that can smash into South Africa and expect to win. Fluidity, and passing which invites the runner forward, are vital.

In defence, sitting back and looking for choke tackles also looks like a recipe for disaster and in that sense, the selection of McCarthy over Donncha O’Callaghan makes absolute sense.

Ireland must get up off the line fast to stymie the Springboks power running round the ruck.

For the Boks’ part, coach Heyneke Meyer has talked repeatedly about using the right personnel and tactics for the conditions. Willem Alberts is one player who has excelled on past trips to Europe and is the man Ireland must subdue in open country.

In the backline, the combination of Ruan Pienaar and Pat Lambie is capable of varying the game with Pienaar’s kicking capable of taking the pressure off Lambie and allowing him to play ball.

But for all that the game has changed in recent years, you have to expect a direct game to come before any fireworks out wide are attempted. Ideally, committed tackling, linespeed and proactive play at the ruck will limit Pienaar’s influence.

De Villiers and Alberts: Key Men For The Boks

If Ireland end up on the back foot, Jean De Villiers’ trademark slicing breaks in the centre and the speed and class outside gives them plenty finishing ability. The wings JP Pietersen and Francois Hougaard are particularly strong, and Pietersen’s power running could yet be the key to the Boks unlocking Ireland’s midfield.

Both teams have players capable of injecting pace from the bench – Eoin Reddan for Ireland, Schalk Brits for the Boks – though if it is tight, South Africa have a definite edge in the replacements.

Ireland’s bold selection is praiseworthy and, hopefully, will play coherently and too its strengths.

But the Springboks arrive battle hardened, and their scrum and power running, all working off the classy Pienaar, may just prove too much.

Match Prediction:

Ireland 12-22 South Africa

What They’re Saying:

Les Kiss (Ireland attack coach): "We just have to make sure that as we go to bed tonight, we have it set in our hearts and minds that we’re up for it and will take it to them. You have to turn up with the mindset that you’ll go at these guys, get in the trenches with them and work them over.

"If we do that then we have some wonderful talent that we can release around the edges. But we have to front up and if we do, it’s quite exciting. We’ll be in a very good place. We know what they’ve got and we have to go at them with our game."

Heyneke Meyer (South Africa head coach): "Test rugby is all about winning. You can play any-which-way, you simply have to win and that is what we are aiming for. But we do want to play better rugby. We've been in a position to win every single game, but the one thing that let us down in 90 per cent of the games was our goal-kicking - that should have been better. It is not conservative or expansive rugby, you have to kick your goals and that is one thing you need to rectify."

Head-To-Head: Ireland lost the first six times they played South Africa since their first meeting in the post-Apartheid era in 1998 but have won three out of the last four and were only denied a draw by the width of the post the last time these sides met two years ago.

Ireland team: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray 1 Cian Healy, 2 Richardt Strauss, 3 Mike Ross, 4 Mike McCarthy, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 7 Chris Henry 8 Jamie Heaslip

Replacements: Sean Cronin, David Kilcoyne, Michael Bent, Donncha O'Callaghan, Iain Henderson, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O'Gara, Fergus McFadden

South Africa: Z Kirchner, JP Pietersen J Taute, J de Villiers, (cpt), F Hougaard, P Lambie, R Pienaar, T Mtawarira, A Strauss, J du Plessis, E Etzebeth, J Kruger, F Louw, W Alberts, D Vermeulen .

Replacements: S Brits, CJ van der Linde, P Cilliers, F van der Merwe, M Coetzee, M Steyn, J de Jongh, L Mvovo.