Joburg: Ideal place for Bok revenge

2016-06-15 18:34
sprinboks, damian de allende, rugby
Damian de Allende (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - The aggrieved Springboks will be intent on making the most of their favourite sanctuary when they tackle Ireland in the potentially pivotal second Test in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Officially Emirates Airline Park these days, the more commonly-known Ellis Park remains a venue hugely to the liking of the home side, not just for its intimidating feel and lung-busting thin, diesel-scented air but heavy statistical ammunition in their favour as well.

Forget for a minute that the modern All Blacks have started to get a much better foothold at the ground these days; the World Cup holders and top-ranked global side are a cut above anyone else, and just about anywhere they may take to the grass.

But to all other comers from abroad, it remains overwhelmingly a place of heartbreak, and if the Boks have fragile minds in the lead-up considering their shock 26-20 Newlands reverse, coach Allister Coetzee might do well to remind them of that very fact as a butterflies-settler.

South Africa win more than two-thirds of their Tests at the venue, (32/47 thus far, with two draws) and that 68 percent record would be better but for the fact that the arch-rival New Zealanders can claim five wins alone there – including two of the last three encounters.

The Irish will be well aware that only one of their ranks – influential No 8 Jamie Heaslip – has ever previously played a Test at Emirates Airline Park, when he was part of the British and Irish Lions team which beat the Boks 28-9 in the dead-rubber final match of the 2009 series.

But even that had a slightly hollow ring to it: then-Bok coach Peter de Villiers made controversial, wholesale changes to his line-up (with the series already in the bag) as he preserved certain key players for the demands of the Tri-Nations which South Africa then went on to win.

Ireland have never yet played the Boks at Ellis Park, although they did play two matches at the stadium during the group phase of the 1995 World Cup – the tournament that eventually saw Francois Pienaar famously lift the spoils at the venue – in losing 43-19 to the All Blacks and pipping Wales 24-23.

But their record against SA in Highveld conditions, which are a far cry from their damp and soft Dublin-based main habitat, is not good: it shows thumping losses to the Boks in Bloemfontein in 2004 (31-17), in that city previously in 1998 (37-13) and also in Pretoria in the ’98 series (33-0).

Given the altitude disadvantage – remember that the Irish players do not play regularly at such levels like New Zealanders or Australians do, courtesy of both Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship – it is tempting to suspect that the tourists will subconsciously be thinking their better chance of clinching an upset series triumph would be to do so in the Port Elizabeth-hosted final Test back at sea level.

But wily coach Joe Schmidt is just as likely to drum into his charges the importance of striking while the iron is hot, as it were, and exploiting any lingering signs of Bok disarray.

Nevertheless, a second successive Bok defeat, and in the slightly ageing Doornfontein cauldron, would be so hard to swallow for Bok fans.

It is just not done to lose to a mid-table Six Nations team at a ground I remember describing, on my last visit for the Boks’ 36-27 victory over England in 2012, as a “testosterone tool of quite noticeable magnitude” to the home cause.

At the time, too, UK rugby scribe Mick Cleary of The Daily Telegraph wrote: “Unless you know what it is like to be beasted by South Africa at Ellis Park in front of 60,000 baying, crowing South Africans, then your education is not complete.”

He spoke of “the Badlands of downtown Johannesburg… never mind rugby heaven, this (is) rugby hell.”

Another “beasting” in the offing as the Boks desperately strive to level the series?

Well, over to you on Saturday, Adriaan Strauss and company…

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  rugby

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