A final before its time. The long-awaited South Africa - Ireland clash this Sunday (9 p.m., TF1) should keep all its promises between two countries, already leaders of Pool B. With ten points and two bonus cards against Romania (82-8) and Tonga (59-16), the Clover XV is one unit ahead of the Springboks, also authors of two successes, including a crucial one against Scotland (18-3). A priori the winner of this match should secure first place in the group at the end of the group stages, unless Ireland subsequently falls against neighboring Scotland.
“If you had told us before the competition that we would have two victories and as many points on the clock in such a difficult group, we would have signed straight away,” says Mike Catt, assistant coach of the XV du Trèfle. We are in a favorable situation. Injury-wise, we’re pretty good too.” It must be said that Ireland was full of confidence for its start. Enough to perfectly prepare for the clash against a country that has won the Webb Ellis Trophy three times.
“We’re going to have to get back on our feet and recover properly,” warns coach Andy Farrell. We are going to play against a fantastic South African team. These two weeks, we have achieved a nice increase in power.
“I believe that we can always progress,” insists the English manager of this Irish team. Once the competition started, we found our rhythm. In the third week, we will continue to gain strength and we will prepare to face the world champions. What is certain is that the Irish will be present. Same story with James Ryan. “I think we’re going to have a great time,” says the Leinster second row. We didn't slip up at all tonight (in the win against Tonga). It will be very difficult and we will have to give our best. We are maybe at 80-85% (but against South Africa), we should be at 95-100%.
Facing the Springboks, the Irish will face their best enemies. "We are waiting for this impatiently. We know very well what to expect from them” confirms opener Ross Byrne. Players now well known to Europeans since several South African franchises have joined the United Rugby Championship (formerly Celtic League) and the Champions Cup. The Sharks of Eben Etzebeth, Makazole Mapimpi and Bongi Mbonambi reached the quarter-finals of the “European Cup”.
“South Africa are playing excellent rugby at the moment,” says assistant coach Mike Catt. There is a very good mix between their physical power and their ability to move the ball. They pose big problems for a lot of teams. We are well aware of this, but we must still try to stop them. We are playing against one of the best teams in the world. That’s what World Cups are built on.”
Robbie Hensahw, history of the XV du Trèfle and regular at major events, warns his partners. “We will have to be ready to fight. They are very powerful. At the back, they play hard, they have been able to integrate new players who move quickly, especially on the wings. We will have to be precise, hold the ball and play. We know what awaits us. As I said recently, the supporters have been behind us for two weeks, it’s incredible. I can’t wait to play in a full Stade de France.”