Ireland's clash with South Africa on Saturday at Croke Park is a huge test of both nations’ rugby mettle.
The visitors have had a pretty wretched autumn, losing three successive tour matches before finally gaining a much-needed victory over Italy at the weekend.
Welcome though it was, Saturday’s 32-10 win does not gloss over defeats by Leicester Tigers and Saracens.
Those were hugely embarrassing results for the World Cup holders now ranked number two in the world — New Zealand having overtaken them in the IRB pecking order. To those humiliating defeats by English club sides add a 20-13 beating by France.
So it has not been a good tour for South African coach Peter De Villiers or his players.
They are there for the taking and those members of Declan Kidney’s side who, as Lions, faced the ’Boks last summer will not lack incentive in aiming to complete a hat-trick of Dublin triumphs over them.
To that highly-charged motivation add current form and home advantage.
Ireland’s preparations will be thorough. Kidney does not leave anything to chance, nor does he fail to steal a march. And having noted every Springbok deficiency he and his players will be spending the next few days attempting to perfect the means of exploiting all such flaws.
He is a shrewd tactician, too, so Ireland will take to the Croke Park pitch with a well thought-out game plan.
Speaking after Saturday evening’s rout of Fiji, loose head prop, Ulster’s Tom Court, lauded the coach’s ability to suss out opponents.
“We’d looked at what they were likely to do so we reckoned we knew what to expect,” he said.
“Our analysis of the Fijians was more or less spot on, so our preparations were really good.”
It is unlikely that they will be any less rigorous for this weekend’s highly significant fixture, for with the 2011 World Cup being played in the Southern Hemisphere, that is going to be a factor from here on in.
And with South Africa being the current minders of the William Webb Ellis Trophy, to say nothing of their status as Tri-Nations champions, Saturday will provide a yardstick-proper as to where Ireland are right now.
Last year they conquered the Northern Hemisphere, but beyond the borders of the six participating nations, that counts for little. Each of the Big Three want to examine Ireland close up.
The Australians had a look and left with a draw, but whereas they had been together for months, that was Ireland’s first outing since March.
They go into Saturday’s battle buoyed up by two matches and a further fortnight of working together. That’s promising.
Having finally achieved that long-awaited Grand Slam, there are fresh questions to be answered. How real is Ireland’s hunger now? In reality, just how good are they?
Saturday will provide some answers.
Sourced from: The Belfast TelegraphReuse content