Ruth Gorman: When Rugby World Cup draw was made, Ireland v South Africa was the lip-licking fixture

When the Rugby World Cup draw was made in 2020, this was the lip-licking fixture.

For the last three years Ireland have been building a team to beat the World Champions, fans have been frantic to find tickets and France has been gearing up for the game of the tournament. 

Even on the plane over to Paris Irish fans were singing Ireland’s call - at the end of the rendition one French passenger shouted “Allez les Bleus” down the plane at the end of it which got a good response!

There’s understandably a real buzz around - it’s first versus second in the world and this one could go either way. 

South African Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus is a genius when it comes to distractions. His squad is depleted with key injuries, but instead of focusing on them, he’s loaded his bench with seven forwards and only one back - the same strategy that helped him record a record win against New Zealand in the summer. 

Suddenly a fear factor starting building back home in Irish circles - is South Africa’s physicality going to be too much for Ireland when a whole new pack comes off the bench in the second half? But that fear is not reflected within the Irish team. “I love it and I respect it,” Andy Farrell commented about the 7:1 split. 

Paul O’Connell shared his sentiments straight after today’s captain’s run training session at the Stade de France. “Fair play to them,” he said, “it makes sense for them and it makes sense for us to go 5:3, I haven’t given it any more thought than that."

I spoke to former Irish star Stephen Ferris this week about the bomb squad coming off the bench: “It’s brave,” he smiled, “but we’ve all seen how well the 7:1 split worked against the All Blacks.”

But this Irish side fear no one. Why would they? They’ve beaten South Africa, France, New Zealand over the last 18 months on the way to this point. 

WATCH: Ireland's press conference ahead of South Africa match

Erasmus brought up that his friends had insisted Ireland are South Africa’s bogey team at a press conference this week, but he quickly flipped that on it’s head by claiming the World Cup is Ireland’s bogey tournament. 

South Africa won their third World Cup in Japan four years ago. Ireland have yet to get past the quarter finals.

But the difference with this Irish side is belief. This group of players only really know what it’s like to win. 27 wins out of 29 over the last two and a half years and their current run is 15 consecutive victories.

That record is Irish Rugby’s best ever and that momentum is massive going into this Springboks game. 

Discipline will be key. Farrell’s side have the best record in world rugby right now and and it’s no coincidence they are the World No.1 team. 

Peter O’Mahony’s yellow card was their first since Andrew Porter’s was sin binned in New Zealand last summer in their 2022 series win. To keep that record for that long at the top level is extremely impressive. 

Farrell has gone with his strongest side - the Springboks reacted to that today by saying they can’t wait for the game and want a really tough test so that if they get further in the knock out stages they’ll be more prepared. 

Interesting Paul O’Connell said he can’t wait to see how Ireland react to the Springboks tomorrow - “South Africa are a such a physical side but they are also a really smart side so our players will have to figure out how to react to that and that is what I love watching.

“They figured out how to win a series in New Zealand, celebrate a Grand Slam this year and come through a tough Autumn series last year including beating South Africa - they’ll have to figure out how to do that again tomorrow.” 

It’s not all or nothing this weekend but whoever wins will likely go on to top Pool B with France or New Zealand the probable quarter final opponents. 

The Rugby World Cup took another twist last night as France’s captain and star player Antoine Dupont suffered a fractured cheekbone during their 96-0 win over Namibia. 

France say he will remain with the squad and see a specialist to determine how long he’ll be out for. But if he’s out for the next few 4/6 weeks that would be a huge blow for France as they bid to win their first ever World Cup. 

There’s still a long way to go before the Webb Ellis trophy is lifted in Paris on October 28th, who knows what could happen before then, but this weekend is when Ireland’s tournament really gets going.

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