November 10, 2017 20:00 GMT by

Battle to host World Cup spices up Ireland’s clash with South Africa

Battle to host World Cup spices up Ireland’s clash with South Africa

Ireland and South Africa are bidding to host the 2023 World Cup and meet on the field in Dublin just days before the winner is announced

Ireland’s meeting with South Africa in Dublin on Saturday evening is a skirmish before a bigger battle involving the countries next week. The hosts for the 2023 World Cup will be announced in London on Wednesday with the Springboks meeting the third contender, France, that weekend.

The consultancy firm hired by World Rugby to assess the bids recommended South Africa, although it is not binding on the members of World Rugby’s council which will vote by secret ballot. Ireland and France reacted indignantly to the report, using the media to lobby for support with the outcome far from settled in a sport that has not shed all its amateur garb.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could put in a really good performance on Saturday and put the Irish Rugby Football Union in the shop window when people are voting on Wednesday?” said the Ireland head coach, Joe Schmidt. “If we got a World Cup here, people would have an unbelievable time.”

Ireland won only one of their first 16 Tests against South Africa, but have prevailed in five of the subsequent nine. The Springboks are looking to move to fourth place in the world rankings ahead of their hosts, but they do not look equipped to deal with a side piloted by arguably the most astute half-back pairing in world rugby, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton.

None of South Africa’s back three has played a Test in Europe before and while rain is not expected on the night, the trio will receive an array of kicks the Rugby Championship will not have prepared them for. The Springboks head coach Allister Coetzee has resisted any impulse to call on the multitude of internationals available to him in Europe beyond the Bath back rower Francois Louw as he looks to develop morale after a traumatic 2016.

South Africa have a core of experience at forward in Eben Etzebeth, Tendai Mtawarira and Louw while Malcolm Marx and Siya Kolisi have made an impact this year, but they are light at half-back in comparison to Ireland and, for all the improvements they have made this year, their away record since the last World Cup is poor, one victory in 10 matches, against Argentina in this year’s Rugby Championship.

Coetzee was deflected this week by an outburst from the former South Africa prop Ollie le Roux who said that the coach had no right to talk about the Springboks, never mind be in charge of the side, because he had never played for them. The vacuity of his remarks aside (the last three winners of the World Cup were coached by men who had not played for their countries), he was too crass to reflect that Coetzee’s playing career had coincided with apartheid and that it was not a matter of whether he was good enough to play for a country that subjugated the majority of the population.

Schmidt also came under fire for awarding a first cap to the Connacht centre Bundee Aki, a New Zealander with a Samoan background, who qualified on residency. The decision made more of a stir than when other players were capped under the same rule earlier this decade, including CJ Stander, the South African who will be playing against his countrymen, or Jared Payne which left some commentators in Ireland hoping that it was not because of Aki’s colour.

Aki gets his opportunity because Garry Ringrose is injured. While Ireland have more of a settled look than South Africa, only eight of the side that defeated England at the end of this year’s Six Nations will take the field. Sexton and Robbie Henshaw, who moves from 12 to 13 to accommodate Aki, are the only survivors, although Murray was injured last March.

Ireland have remained tactically consistent in Schmidt’s four years in charge: when South Africa were last in Dublin three years ago, they were buried under an avalanche of kicks and were pinned back in a 14-point defeat. If they can expect more of the same, with ball in play time now higher, Sexton will, following his success with the Lions, be alert to opportunity against opponents whose readiness to move the ball makes them prone to mistakes. “We have a rhythm in the way we play,” said Schmidt. “Every team has systems; they are not overly diverse.”

Ireland’s defence coach, Andy Farrell, helped the Lions largely mute the game’s most potent attack, New Zealand, and South Africa will come under pressure in possession. The outcome will not be decided by consultants or a vote and it is difficult to look beyond another home victory.