Ireland are 'in a good place' ahead of daunting South Africa clash

Ireland are ‘in a good place’ after eight-try Tonga rout, reveals Mike Catt as Andy Farrell’s side build up to daunting South Africa clash, but the world champions’ extensive attacking threat can cause ‘big problems’

  • Ireland have scored 20 tries in their first two wins over Romania and Tonga
  • Andy Farrell and Co face the reigning world champions in Paris next weekend
  • Rugby World Cup 2023: Click here for Mail Sport’s latest coverage from France 
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

Buoyed by their storming start to the World Cup, the Ireland camp are now relishing the daunting prospect of the world champions in Paris on Saturday night.

South Africa rested their front-liners for Sunday’s clash with Romania, with their attention consumed by the challenge of Andy Farrell’s men.

But fresh from an eight-try rout of Tonga in Nantes on Saturday night, the Irish set-up are banking on the benefits of two crushing statements of intent that have brought 20 tries in a week.

The challenge that awaits in the Stade de France could define their entire tournament, but attack coach Mike Catt on Sunday said that the experience of withstanding Tonga’s limited but bruising challenge should be valuable in preparing for the most physical and aggressive opposition in the world game.

‘I thought last night’s performance was very good against a big, physical side, and that big, physical side is coming again at the weekend,’ said Catt, shortly before the Irish team departed for their competition base in Tours.

Mike Catt admitted that Ireland were in a good place as they build up to titanic clash with South Africa

The attack coach will have been pleased that his side have scored 20 tries in two games already

They will prepare there before moving to Paris on Thursday morning.

‘South Africa are a world-class side and they’ve got an amazing team going. A lot of them will be rested (for the Romania game); they’ll have a two-week build-up towards our game.

‘That’s why we play the game, that’s why we want to play these games in big competitions, and I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position to be competitive.’

The Irish camp provided no update on Finlay Bealham after his removal following a blow to the head against Tonga, and it remains unclear if he is undergoing return-to-play protocols. His fitness should be clarified in the next 24 hours, and his absence from the match-day squad would be significant, given how well he has understudied Tadhg Furlong, and the immense challenge posed by South Africa’s starting front row, and then their feted ‘Bomb Squad’.

Confidence that Dan Sheehan will be fit remains high, and if he is ready to go, then Andy Farrell will find it hard to resist putting him back into the team. ‘We’re pretty confident that he’s available for selection for Saturday,’ said Catt.

While South Africa’s game-plan will inevitably be sourced in their fearsome forward power, the more nuanced attacking patterns that they revealed in the warm-up battering of New Zealand points to a more extensive threat than is traditional with Springbok sides.

‘They’re playing a great band of rugby at the moment,’ said Catt. ‘There’s a real good mix of their physicality and their directness, (and then) their ability to move the ball.

‘I think having Manie Libbok at 10, Damian Willemse at 15 and Willie le Roux, they will definitely be putting the ball through the hands a little bit more and they are causing problems, big problems, for a lot of teams.

South Africa are posing a somewhat less traditional extensive threat putting the ball through hands in the back line

Finlay Bealham’s knock to the head against Tonga is the only real selection issue facing Andy Farrell’s side

‘We’re well aware of it, but you still have to stop it.’

Getting through the first two rounds with potentially Bealham as the only new injury issue provides the sort of fitness bulletin Farrell and his coaches would have dreamed of before the World Cup kicked off.

‘We’re in a good place,’ acknowledged Catt. ‘Injury-wise, we’re in a good place. Now it’s about recovery and preparing ourselves for South Africa.’

It promises to be a grand occasion, and will consume much public attention for the next week.

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