Wednesday 22 January 2020

'I think the other winger is David Skrela ... He plays for Ulster': Pietersen blunder played down

South Africa winger JP Pietersen
South Africa winger JP Pietersen
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

PERHAPS the most telling aspect of South Africa's press briefing was the deviation from the schedule.

Instead of Belfast-born defence and tactical kicking coach John McFarland, the media would be meeting backs coach Ricardo Loubscher and winger JP Pietersen.

The reason? McFarland had headed to Blackrock with a group of players for some extra training. The focus? Scrums and kicking.

Heyneke Meyer, it seems, is learning from the mistakes of his predecessors.

The Springboks coach knows all about northern hemisphere rugby from his time in charge of Leicester and has seen the men in dark green perish in poor conditions at Lansdowne Road and Croke Park before.

The news that they are focusing on the rudiments of the game is not only bad for the near sell-out crowd hoping to be entertained, it could be ominous for Ireland.

This South Africa side, however inexperienced, are here to play cup rugby as preparations begin for the 2015 World Cup in England. So, don't expect anything flamboyant.

But Meyer may want to turn his focus on his backline's knowledge of their opponents, after World Cup winner Pietersen name-checked France fly-half David Skrela among the main dangermen in the Ireland back-three.

He meant Andrew Trimble, and considering the Ulster winger is likely to be marking the 26-year-old, it should add some more fuel to their battle.

Take Brian O'Driscoll out of an Irish backline and the bells stop ringing for southern hemisphere sides.

In fairness to him, the Sharks star did remember Tommy Bowe from his days tearing it up in South Africa for the Lions. "I have played against Tommy Bowe and I think the other winger is David Skrela or something, he plays for Ulster," he said.

"I have watched a couple of games in the Heineken Cup and they have a very exciting back three. I don't know who is going to be playing full-back, but I am sure they are going to challenge us -- it will be an exciting challenge for us as wingers and full-back this weekend."

Trimble, it seems, won't be pinning the comments up on the dressing room wall -- even though he was somewhat taken aback.

Ireland have beaten South Africa three times in the last four outings and contributed a handsome amount of players to the Lions who toured three years ago, but still their names don't roll off Springbok tongues.

"David Skrela?! Is that what he said?" the bemused Ulsterman said later at Carton House.


"It's always the way; you want to get as much respect out of these teams as possible and I think the only way you get that respect you feel you deserve is if you beat them.

"It could have just been a mistake. I do a lot of press conferences and you get names wrong and you make mistakes. You're nervous, there are people staring at you and you don't know what to say.

"It's just one of those things, you get on with it. I don't think we'll be looking at this and saying: 'JP Pietersen thinks I'm David Skrela, let's get him!'."

Meanwhile, backs coach Loubscher does not feel the injuries affecting both squads should affect the game, although he did pay tribute to the injured Rob Kearney, who was so effective for the Lions in South Africa two years ago.

"He is world-class," the four-times capped former Springbok said of the Leinster star.

"There is a big focus on set-piece and a big focus on territory and I don't think that will change on Saturday. So, whoever comes in will have to try to adapt on the day.

"Personally, I don't think the injuries are going to make much of a difference. From a coaching point of view, we feel Ireland are a well-balanced side with an excellent coaching staff that have been together for a long time."

Loubscher believes the weather will play a big part. Since their arrival on Irish soil on Saturday, the Boks have trained in wintry sunshine, but have enough memories of dark, wet days in Dublin 4 not to be fooled by the positive forecast.

"The biggest challenge is obviously the conditions," he said. "But it is just a tweak here and a tweak there. The most important thing is that the players realise the need to adapt."

Irish Independent

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