Mind games in full force as Springboks target Ireland

Boks up the ante with 7-1 bench split, talk up Irish skipper Sexton and hint at make-or-break final pool game against Scotland.

The Springboks seem to not only be winning the battle of physicality, but that of the mind as well as they prepare for their biggest challenge of the Rugby World Cup so far when they take on top ranked Ireland in their pool match in Saint-Denis on Saturday.

It has been an up and down past week for the team after losing the services of Malcolm Marx, while bringing Handre Pollard into the side as his replacement, while they managed a huge 76-0 thrashing of Romania on Sunday.

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But all of that was overshadowed at the team announcement on Tuesday when the Boks named the 7-1 bench split of forwards to backs for just the second time in professional rugby history.

Last month the Boks stunned the rugby world when the late withdrawal of Willie le Roux from their match day squad to take on the All Blacks saw them replace him with Kwagga Smith and for the first time ever have a 7-1 bench split, with it paying off massively with a record 35-7 win.

From the get-go

This time they have backed the split from the get-go and the message is abundantly clear, that they want to smash the Irish up front, as they did the All Blacks.

Bok coach Jacques Nienaber admitted that the success in that match played a part in them deciding to go the same way against Ireland.

“It worked well in that specific game. The bench had a big impact,” said Nienaber.

“We analysed Ireland and after looking at them and what they bring, what we think we will need in this specific game from a tactical point of view and trying to counter everything they do … that’s the reason we went with seven-one.

“I don’t necessarily think Ireland and New Zealand are similar in how they do things. It’s for this specific game. The ‘bomb squad’ that came on against Scotland also had a big impact. That’s what we want.”

Further pressure

Nienaber heaped further pressure on Ireland ahead of Saturday’s match by saying it was “important” for both teams, but “if Ireland slip up, the Scotland game becomes a massive one, and the same for us with Tonga if we lose.”

Ireland have so far registered big wins against Romania and Tonga, but face tricky Scotland in their last pool game; the Boks face Tonga.

SA Rugby director Rassie Erasmus this week also joined the off-field battle, as he talked up Bok nemesis, Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, by saying he had an ‘aura’ about him and how very influential he is for the Irish team.

“His presence is incredible … he is vital (for Ireland) … and he is so intimidating for us,” said Erasmus.