Ireland can confirm new order and Springboks' chaos

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Ireland's much anticipated but long delayed ascendancy to the upper echelons of the world game should gather momentum against South Africa here today.

Ireland's much anticipated but long delayed ascendancy to the upper echelons of the world game should gather momentum against South Africa here today.

Confounding expectation and succeeding as the underdog has become almost an Irish characteristic, but it is time Ireland's rugby men achieved consistency.

They must be favourites today in the first of two Test matches on successive Saturdays, for the Springboks are close to disarray. Squabbling behind the scenes among the men charged with running South African rugby has been accompanied by a grievous injury list. The loss of key centre De Wet Barry from the Test side this week, with an ankle injury suffered in training, just about capped a disastrous build-up for the new coach, Jake White. Percy Montgomery was brought back from Wales to be a Springbok once more but broke his hand in his final game of the season for Gwent Dragons. Others, like the flanker Joe Van Niekerk, have proved equally prone to injury. The Springboks now have a fly-half at full-back and their World Cup full-back at fly-half.

Against all this, Ireland exude consistency of selection, poise and purpose. They have never won a Test match in South Africa and their last victory over the Springboks was in Dublin in 1965. But there has never been a better moment to end that sequence. Their coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, concedes: "This is as positive as it gets. Everyone is fit and available and we've been a bit lucky with injuries." Where Ireland are gaining a significant advantage over countries like England and France is in the reduced playing schedule faced by their best players.

Some of the Irish side have appeared little since the Triple Crown win over Scotland in March. The World Cup men of France and England are on their knees, but not the Irish.

Ireland can confront the Springboks with two very different game plans. They can let their fly-half Ronan O'Gara sit in the pocket and kick for position deep in opposition territory, utilising his team's potency in the line-outs where they should be a battle royal between Paul O'Connell and Victor Matfield. Or they can ask O'Gara to take the ball flatter and release three of the most exciting attacking backs in European rugby. Brian O'Driscoll, Geordan Murphy and Gordon D'Arcy, the latter the find of the Six Nations' season, have the power, pace and creativity to ask plenty of questions of the South African defence.

The Springboks, with virtually a new side which is as yet only a cluster of individuals, are under heavy pressure to succeed, after the failure of their World Cup campaign. But their new coach needs time to weld a new team together, all the while hoping the off-the-field shenanigans can be calmed.

SOUTH AFRICA: G du Toit; B Paulse, M Joubert, W Julies, H Mentz; J Van der Westhuyzen, F du Preez; O du Randt, J Smit (capt), E Andrews, B Botha, V Matfield, S Burger, P Wannenburg, J Smith.

IRELAND: G Dempsey; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy (all Leinster), G Murphy (Leicester); R O'Gara, P Stringer (both Munster); R Corrigan, S Byrne (both Leinster), J Hayes (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli), D Wallace, A Foley (both Munster).

Referee: A Spreadbury (Eng).

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