Rory Keane reports from Cape Town
NEWLANDS STADIUM IS truly a sight to behold.
One of the oldest rugby theatres in world rugby, there is a very much a hint of the old school about the venue for tomorrow’s opening Test in South Africa.
The home of the Stormers in Super Rugby, Newlands brings back memories of the old Lansdowne Road; compact stands placed right on top of the rugby field, terraces and a plenty of character. This place has seen some epic battles through the decades.
Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne at Newlands today. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
It certainly looks like a fortress. Wait until it’s packed to the rafters with 52,000 Bokke supporters before kick off tomorrow afternoon. It will an unforgettable experience for Ireland’s young brigade, the ultimate test for the likes of Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Iain Henderson and Jordi Murphy.
Speaking after Ireland’s captain’s run at the stadium this afternoon, Ireland captain Rory Best spoke of the huge challenge facing his side.
“It’s massive for these guys” says the Ulster hooker.
“A lot of these guys have been in and around the squad a little bit and wanted a chance but certain key players that are established in the squad, and playing so well, it doesn’t allow them the opportunity; some of these guys now have their opportunities tomorrow.
“I suppose whenever you’re a young kid – it’s been a while since I was a young kid playing rugby – but all you want is an opportunity and then it’s yours, at least you then dictate what you do with it. I think for me, as captain of these guys, it’s very exciting to see what this young talent can deliver.”
Joe Schmidt’s squad have enjoyed the best of what Cape Town has to offer this week. There have been helicopter rides, cage diving with sharks and all sorts, but now it’s time to get down to business.
Talks of injuries, fatigue and history must be put to one side now. Nothing will focus the mind like a Test against the Boks on their home patch.
“The week’s gone well,” says Best.
Best fronts up to Jack McGrath in training. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
“We had three days back in Dublin before we flew out on Sunday night. I suppose we’ve looked at two big days being Tuesday and Thursday, it’s went well. Obviously, we have a few guys that are in that maybe haven’t been in that many squads in the past. For a few guys, I think it’s their first squad but I still think we’ve got a lot of guys that have been around for a while.
“So, we’ve settled in reasonably quickly but, look, we’re under no illusions. It’s one thing training in semi-contact on a Tuesday or Thursday with a team run today versus a full-blown Test match here tomorrow.
“We’re under no illusions, we’ve prepared well all week but we know that we have to step it up a gear. In terms of the mental side of things, we’ve had the beauty, I suppose, of being out of the European Cup so we had a bit of a freshen-up between the Six Nations and now.
“It has been a long season but that freshen-up with a few weekends off towards the tail end of the season has really helped guys. You know with missing a few players and getting new guys in, they give a burst of enthusiasm anyway so it’s a great squad to be around at the minute but, ultimately, I suppose the mood next week will be reflected on what happens tomorrow evening.”
There has been plenty of talk this week of Ireland’s impressive victory against the Boks back in November 2014.
Certainly, that result in Dublin has eliminated any sense of complacency in the home side’s ranks ahead of this three-Test series.
Allister Coetzee has spoken of his desire to expand the traditional attacking template of Springbok sides in the past, Faf de Klerk will certainly inject plenty of tempo into proceedings.
Best, however, knows better than most that forward dominance is the number one priority for the Boks:
Luke Marshall and Robbie Henshaw pair up. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
“I think, certainly with South Africa, when you look at the strength of their set-piece in particular, they have traditionally had and still do a really strong set-piece, the lineout and scrum.
“It’s definitely an area that if we’re going to compete tomorrow that we have to be somewhere near our best because we know that they are going to bring probably a different challenge than we faced during the Six Nations and, certainly, in our own club competitions.
“But I suppose the challenge to that is it’s Test rugby so you want to be challenged against the best and certainly from a forwards’ point of view, in my opinion, South Africa are one of the best in the world and we’re going to be tested tomorrow.”
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