Boks on collision course with improving Ireland
The Springboks 23-13 loss to the All Blacks in the opening game of Rugby World Cup 2019 has set them on a collision course with world number two side Ireland.
New Zealand reclaimed top ranking on Monday after beating the Boks.
Ireland‚ despite their 27-3 win over Scotland in their Pool A opener on Sunday‚ dropped to No 2 having gone in RWC 2019 as the world’s top ranked team.
World rankings are not the issue at this point though and for the Springboks they have to win their three remaining Pool A matches against Namibia‚ Canada and Italy to guarantee passage to the quarterfinals.
Ireland are in pole position to top Pool A with matches against Japan‚ Russia and Samoa to come.
In that likely scenario‚ they would face the Pool B runners-up South Africa in the last eight.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was a keen spectator when the Boks met the All Blacks and he came away convinced that South Africa would be a tough opponent.
“I thought it was a heavyweight contest last night (the Boks vs. All Blacks game); we might be light heavyweight or middleweight‚ I don’t know‚” said Schmidt.
“And I think those physical demands are right up there. It was a super game. South Africa were bristling‚ and the All Blacks at times were brilliant.”
Ireland’s form coming into RWC 2019 was patchy and included a 57-15 loss to England at Twickenham.
But their clinical suffocation of Scotland was a reminder how good they can be‚ and how parsimonious their defence is when they are in top form.
It’s a far cry from the negativity surrounding the camp after that loss to England a month ago.
Ireland bounced back with back-to-back wins over Wales before RWC 2019 and backed it up with the strong performance against Scotland in tough conditions.
Worryingly for the Boks‚ they are on an upward curve.
“There were questions externally and it’s hard to get away from it; you talk about being in the bubble but probably the biggest frustration within was that we knew we had a lot more to give‚ we just weren’t getting it for whatever reason‚” said hooker Rory Best following the win over Scotland.
“We were happy with our preparation in a lot of those games and we just didn’t execute.
“As players‚ maybe we didn’t put enough pressure on ourselves to execute the plan we were given; sometimes you need to draw a line in the sand.
“We were more disappointed than anyone in Ireland or the world with that England performance.
“We needed to be a lot better than that‚ and we are a lot better than that.
"Our potential is a lot better than that.
"So it was pleasing the way we played in the next two Wales games and into today.”
The Boks‚ of course‚ haven’t spoken about quarterfinals and are in the ‘take it one game at a time’ stage of the tournament‚ especially after losing to the All Blacks.