Irish spring a surprise on Boks
Dublin - An Irish surprise package awaits the Springboks in their Test against Ireland on Saturday.
The Irish coach, Declan Kidney's decision to pick the 24-year-old Leinster flyhalf, Jonathan Sexton, after playing only one Test for his country, in his team to play against the Boks, did not just surprise the Irish rugby writers, but also caught the Springboks offside.
"We do not know much about him," said Fourie du Preez, the Springbok's scrumhalf yesterday after the Irish team was announced.
"I do know that he apparently played very well in his debut Test against Fiji last weekend, but we only received the video of that Test on Tuesday and have not yet had the chance to have a look at it. I really thought that Ronan O'Gara would be picked," said Du Preez.
Even Sexton's opposite number, Morné Steyn, was surprised.
"I thought that I was going to play against O'Gara. However, this does not really matter, does it? It is how much you can focus on your own game which is important," said Steyn.
Sexton impressed against Fiji, succeeding with all of his seven goal attempts to the posts and with the manner in which he attacked the advantage line.
As a matter of fact, ex-British and Irish Lions flyhalf, Tony Ward, felt obliged to describe the performance as the "best debut by any Irish player ever" - and his advice to Kidney was to show O'Gara the door.
"I know that Sexton was, like myself, at St Mary's (a local high school in Dublin), but this does not change anything to the fact that he is going to be the future of Irish rugby," wrote Ward in the Irish Independent.
In addition to Sexton, there was only one forced change to the team that played to a dramatic draw against Australia two weeks ago.
Luke Fitzgerald (knee ligaments) is injured and will be replaced by Keith Earls.
This means that the back three, along with Brian O'Driscoll, all toured South Africa, as did the loose trio and lock pairing.
John Hayes (prop) also joined the tour at a later stage, while O'Gara was picked as a substitute.
The Irish defensive coach, Less Kiss, said in the meantime that the "enthusiastic" way in which France tackled the Springboks at the breakdown in their Test in Toulouse, must serve as an example to his team.
"The Springboks are definitely the most physical team in world rugby and that is where the biggest challenge lies for their opponents. The French showed that it can be done, so we have an idea of what to expect from our players," said Kiss.
On top of Sexton's inexperience, the Irish front row has hardly been intimidating at all and the usage of a ball fetcher can cost the team, especially since Heinrich Brüssouw has hardly put a foot wrong on the tour.
Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, Paddy Wallace, Keith Earls, Jonathan Sexton, Tomas O’Leary, Jamie Heaslip, David Wallace, Stephen Ferris, Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, John Hayes, Jerry Flannery, Cian Healy.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Tony Buckley, Leo Cullen, Denis Leamy, Peter Stringer, Ronan O’Gara, Gordon D’Arcy.