O'Driscoll fired by White's war of words

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It has been a week of jaw-jaw and phoney war in Dublin, with South Africa's coach, Jake White, appearing to dismiss Irish rugby with a few throw-away lines.

It has been a week of jaw-jaw and phoney war in Dublin, with South Africa's coach, Jake White, appearing to dismiss Irish rugby with a few throw-away lines.

His opposite number, Eddie O'Sullivan, has taken exception to what White insisted yesterday was merely light-hearted banter. White had said that three Ireland players, no more, might make the Springbok Test team. He then drew attention to the host nation's record against South Africa - one victory, in 1965, and one draw five years later in 16 meetings since 1906.

O'Sullivan labelled White's remarks "ungracious and derogatory". During his eve-of-match press conference White made an effort to repair the damage. "I have huge respect for Irish rugby and for Irish tradition," he said. "I didn't mean it the way it came out in the media. It was not meant as an insult to the Irish team."

Unfortunately White had prefaced the above remarks with: "I think Eddie O'Sullivan has over-reacted. I don't understand why he went off on one, saying I had no respect for Irish rugby."

Today, on the Lansdowne Road pitch, actions will speak louder than words. Behind O'Sullivan and his team lie two disappointing defeats against the Springboks back in June, coincidentally White's first two matches in charge, and the Irish are desperate to expunge the memories of those two Tests.

They were heartened by the slack performance given by the South Africans in last week's narrow win over Wales, in the opening match of what the Boks hope will turn into a grand slam tour against the four Home Unions.

Not if Ireland and their captain, Brian O'Driscoll, have any say, it won't. He might have lost his regular centre partner Gordon D'Arcy, but O'Driscoll will have the bulk of Shane Horgan alongside him as the pair bid to contain, and ultimately eclipse, Marius Joubert and De Wet Barry, one of the hardest and most potent centre pairings in the world.

The loss of D'Arcy to a groin injury cannot be understated - his pace and more importantly his creativity will be sorely missed. But O'Driscoll said: "If their centres are meant to be big and physical then I don't know what Shane is. And I like to think I can mix it a bit. We're looking forward to the challenge, because they're currently the in-form centres."

Both Irishmen have pace. Horgan is really a winger, while O'Driscoll is sharp off the mark and capable of ripping defences open in nano-seconds. Mind you, the South Africans also have serious pace out wide, where the right wing Breyton Paulse, winning his 50th cap, will be looking to add to his 21 tries.

But before either set of backs gets the ball their forwards have to win it, and here there will be a battle royal. The set-piece will be a centre of pain and the locks could well cancel each other out. The back rows may hold the key. If the debutant open-side flanker Johnny O'Connor struts his stuff then South Africa will find themselves without the ball. But they are possessed of a wonderful No 8 in Joe van Niekirk and there will be a fascinating tussle at the breakdown.

If anyone is looking for some sort of sign they should look at the referee. The original choice to take charge was the Australian Stuart Dickinson, but he has recently had knee surgery and has been replaced by the New Zealander Paul Honiss.

Honiss has refereed Ireland on seven occasions, including last season's momentous Six Nations match against England at Twickenham, and the men in green have never lost. The question is, who will blow it today?