Ireland named scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park in their only change for the crunch Rugby World Cup Pool B clash with South Africa in Paris on Saturday as coach Andy Farrell selected an unchanged pack with a 5-3 split between forwards and backs on the bench.
The fixture is expected to decide who finishes top of the group and is also a meeting between the two top ranked teams in the world, with Ireland looking to hold onto their place at the summit, earned on the back of a superb run of 15 wins in a row.
“It’s always nice to win but we have always looked at ourselves mainly in terms of performance.”
Johnny Sexton will lead the team from flyhalf alongside Gibson-Park, who is the only change from the team that defeated Tonga 59-16 in their previous game.
South Africa’s decision to choose seven forwards on the bench was never likely to change Ireland’s plans but could be a factor in the final 20 minutes if they hold the physical edge and are able to produce greater speed at the breakdown.
“I think it’s great,” Farrell told reporters. “They know what fits for them and so do we. I did pose the question to our forwards coaches as to whether we should go with seven backs and one forward, but they weren’t up for that!
Hooker Dan Sheehen has recovered from injury to be named among the replacements for what will be his World Cup debut.
“Dan is obviously fit and raring to go and in fine condition. He’s a world-class hooker in my opinion and he gets his chance to get his tournament under way,” Farrell said.
Ireland beat South Africa 19-16 when the teams last met in Dublin in November and have won seven of the last 11 against the Springboks. Surprisingly this is their first World Cup meeting.
Team: 15-Hugo Keenan, 14-Mack Hansen, 13-Garry Ringrose, 12-Bundee Aki, 11-James Lowe, 10-Johnny Sexton, 9-Jamison Gibson-Park, 1-Andrew Porter, 2-Ronan Kelleher, 3-Tadhg Furlong, 4-Tadhg Beirne, 5-James Ryan, 6-Peter O’Mahony, 7-Josh van der Flier, 8-Caelan Doris
Replacements: 16-Dan Sheehan, 17-David Kilcoyne, 18-Finlay Bealham, 19-Iain Henderson, 20-Ryan Baird, 21-Conor Murray, 22-Jack Crowley, 23-Robbie Henshaw.
“We are rooting for you” – Ramaphosa to Springboks
Meanwhile, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has sent well wishes to the Springboks ahead of the clash with Ireland.
Ramaphosa, who was speaking at the conclusion of the UN General Assembly in New York yesterday, had these words of encouragement for the national team: “My message is simple to the Springboks. Go Bokke, go and win on Saturday. Beat the Irish and then our route is very clear to the final and I will definitely go to the final myself to ensure that we lift that trophy for the fourth time.”
“And I think the Springboks have it in them. They are playing extremely well, they are strong, they are focused, they have got good leadership in Siya Kolisi, so all of us must be rooting for them.”
Springboks team ahead of the Ireland clash:
— Springboks (@Springboks) September 19, 2023
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-Additional reporting by Sherwin Bryce-Pease