Tuesday 19 September 2017

Saturday view: Ireland must tip scales against Goliaths with pace and skill

Sean Diffley

Next week the gargantuan Springboks (their forwards, at least) will grace the green, green grass of the Aviva. It will be another instance of us taking on the greater physical power of South African rugby.

How do we counteract? Do we hope our lighter forwards apply the running game and test the visitors' stamina? As those who have run the Dublin Marathon, and even those who haven't, are well aware, the heavier you are the more rapidly you run out of gas. Not that it always works all that successfully against South Africa. It did reap dividends in this summer's Tri Nations for New Zealand but remember, the Springboks are the reigning world champions.

But seeking to counter the Goliaths of South Africa is not a new concept. Back in 1949 the All Blacks, preparing for a tour of South Africa, decided on a cunning ploy. Instead of selecting the squad by applying the basic tests of rugby skills, passing, running, kicking and so forth, the New Zealand selectors picked their players by reading the weighing scales.

They picked 15 forwards by the simple expedient of putting them on the scales and then selecting the heaviest of the bunch.

From trial match to trial match that season the selectors carried the scales with them and it was said that the players' dressing-rooms after a match "resembled the Chicago stockyards, as they weighed and graded the beef on the hoof". Any player under 200lbs was dismissed with disdain.

In the final selection the All Blacks forwards averaged a record of 210lbs each or what in today's game was a less-than-overwhelming 15 stone. In today's professional game, 50 years later, the Irish backs would equal those New Zealand forwards. As it transpired, those All Blacks are remembered with utter contempt back home, dismissed as the "Fortyniners". They lost all four Tests.

In fact they were so disorganised that the South African Rugby Union, fearful that the tour would turn out to be a financial disaster, had the famed South African coach, Danie Craven, take them for a few sessions.

Those Springboks toured these shores in 1951 and were considered among the greatest tourists. They had the remarkable prop Okey Geffin, of Jewish origin, who was a prisoner of war in a German camp, where he practised his place-kicking, often in his bare feet. They won all four Tests, with a record 44-0 win over Scotland at Murrayfield, where they scored 10 tries, seven converted by Geffin.

Ireland also suffered a 10-try reverse against the South Africans but that was back in 1912. But top of the list of reverses is the 15-try defeat of Wales in Pretoria in 1998.

And so to 2010 where the Springboks, smarting from their Tri Nations, will be seeking a renaissance at our expense. But it's the end of their season and they may be a bit tired and they have many injuries. But so have we.

Irish Independent

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