Cape Town – Ireland’s struggle thus far in the 2016 Six Nations competition may have some Springbok supporters breathing a little more easily.
The Irish are due to be first challengers to the Boks this year, visiting in the June window – a now traditional interruption to Super Rugby – for three Tests at Newlands, Emirates Airline Park and Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium respectively.
Considering that Ireland boast both the 2014 and 2015 Six Nations titles, and beat South Africa 29-15 in Dublin in the last bilateral encounter in November 2014, plenty of Bok supporters and domestic pundits have been bemoaning in early-season the danger of the Boks losing at home to them for the first time.
These pessimists’ fears are aggravated by the fact that since Heyneke Meyer’s resignation as head coach late last year, the vacancy has not yet been filled – an unusual state of affairs when it is customary for the Bok mastermind to already be liaising with Super Rugby counterparts over his intended mid-competition training camps, player workloads, injuries/rehabilitations and the like.
Ireland have played the Springboks seven times on our soil, and not yet won a match, let alone series; their last visit was in 2004 when the hosts comfortably clinched the mini-series 2-0. In 22 overall bilateral meetings, the Boks lead 16-5, with one stalemate.
But the Irish have had striking home success in recent times, winning four of the last six clashes, and that may be further fuel for the suspicion that the Boks could be ripe for a maiden home slaying from them in June – with the visitors revelling also in likely, handy intelligence from their acclaimed George-born loose forward acquisition from South Africa, CJ Stander (ex-Bulls).
Events over the last few weeks, however, suggest that such a scenario ought to be downgraded a tad: last weekend’s 21-10 defeat to Eddie Jones’s log-leading England at Twickenham not only confirmed that Ireland are slipping backwards from their 2014-15 heyday, but that retention of the Six Nations title is no longer possible.
They have drawn one, the opener against Wales, and lost two Six Nations fixtures so far – their other defeat was to France – and, in disappointing fifth with a meagre one point to their credit, can no longer catch pace-setting England on six with two rounds still to play (you get two points for a win and there are no bonus points in the competition).
The Irish Times described their performance against the English as “lame”, and suggested some new-generation infusions be made to the team, with the SA tour already in mind, for the remaining tournament dates against Italy and Scotland.
For further evidence that the Irish may be set for a leaner international trot, columnist and combative former England hooker Brian Moore of the Daily Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk) wrote this week, in a broadly downbeat appraisal of the 2016 Six Nations so far: “Ireland ... have regressed. Of greatest import is the loss of (retired once-stalwart lock and captain) Paul O’Connell.
“Not only is his leadership missed, his technical expertise and the central role he played in Ireland’s forward play is only now becoming apparent.
“As a one-man wrecker of opposing driving mauls and the fulcrum of Ireland’s line-out and subsequent drives, O’Connell was the base on which Ireland built control to allow them to play their technical and precise game. Without that stability Ireland are struggling to dictate territory and tempo.
“When you add a lack of creativity they have significant problems to solve.”
You might argue that this puts current Bok uncertainties into a bit of perspective ...
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