Losing the second half of an international test 29-7 shouldn’t leave you with optimism. In fact, there should only be despair.
But I am fully confident that Ireland will make history in a week’s time, and secure a series victory against South Africa in Port Elizabeth.
Ireland have outplayed their Springbok opponents in both games so far despite many reasons why they shouldn’t, and the only reason that the series hasn’t been won is down to the altitude. At the end of a long season, after last week’s draining victory - the players couldn’t go to the well one more time, and tackles were missed. I’ve no doubt that at sea level, or 20 minutes earlier - Trimble and Murray don’t miss those tackles on De Allende.
Essentially, South Africa are no great shakes.
Schmidt has played South Africa three times as Ireland head coach, and that was his first loss. The first game was a comprehensive win. As was the second with 14 men. We were on the road to another big win before the lungs decided they couldn’t anymore.
Port Elizabeth will be a statement, but it does rely on some team selections.
For some reason, South Africa aren’t selecting their best team. They continue to pick Frans Malherbe - who I flagged pre-series as the worst Springbok prop in history. He’s been a liability - not just at the scrum where he’s been Jack McGrath’s bitch, but he concedes the stupidest penalties at the breakdown for needless reasons.
They are relying on sparks of magic from Willie le Roux, despite him not having any form in two seasons. A lot of their combinations are inexperienced - Lionel Mapoe has been anonymous despite an impressive Super Rugby season.
If it wasn’t for debutant Ruan Combrinck bailing them out of trouble, this would be a very different article. If South Africa have Malherbe in their team, or don’t have Combrinck next week - Ireland will win.
That said, Schmidt has some decisions to make himself. Tadhg Furlong, Rhys Ruddock and Luke Marshall have demanded selection in this test. Jared Payne needs to be kept at fullback. Quinn Roux had a huge effect on the scrum - but what do you do with Stander and Henderson?
Schmidt has a chance to make the South Africa selection irrelevant.
Ireland will win the series next week.
Hopeful Irish 23:
1. Jack McGrath, 2. Rory Best, 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Devin Toner, 5. Quinn Roux, 6. CJ Stander, 7. Rhys Ruddock, 8. Jamie Heaslip;
9. Conor Murray, 10. Paddy Jackson, 11. Keith Earls, 12. Luke Marshall/Stuart Olding, 13. Robbie Henshaw/Luke Marshall, 14. Andrew Trimble, 15. Jared Payne
16. Sean Cronin, 17. Finlay Bealham, 18. Mike Ross, 19. Ultan Dillane, 20. Iain Henderson, 21. Kieran Marmion, 22. Stuart Olding/Ian Madigan, 23. Matt Healy
Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile