Les Kiss exclusive on Springbok challenge



AS the Art of War simply states; know your enemy.

There is little doubt that due to his insatiable work ethic and attention to detail Ireland attack coach will have plucked every useful piece of tape from the video archives about South Africa in the past few months, but better than knowing their troops Kiss knows their general.

Having spent time coaching in South Africa with the Springboks and among the franchises, the Blue Bulls in particular, the Australian developed a strong friendship with Bok coach Heyneke Meyer and one his current lieutenants John McFarland.  

Kiss is fully aware that although South Africa have been hit by injuries prior to this tour and that although they have spoken about going back to basics Meyer is keen to bring that brute force into some of the wider recesses of midfield. But to do that they will rely upon the trademarks of the Bokke.

“I know Heynecke well and he knows that’s only possible if you’re direct, abrasive and aggressive from the start. If he knows that those things come, the rest will work on the virtue of those things working properly,” says Kiss.

To that end, Meyer has selected 22-year-old Patrick Lambie, who made his Bok debut almost two years ago to the day at Aviva Stadium. However, despite a lack of recognisable names the coach has surrounded his young player maker with plenty of protection.

The Best, Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis will do more than just attempt to scrum the life out of the Irish front row, while the loose forwards (as they call them in South Africa) of Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen must not be underestimated. The jewel in the crown of their physical nature will be 21-year-old second row Eben Etzebeth – a beast of a man and despite his schoolboy facial features his 6ft 8in, 19stone frame gives him the opportunity to intimidate his opponents.

In South Africa if you play with the No 4 on your back it is your role to be an enforcer and try to influence play by hitting rucks and making big tackles. I know the responsibility of that,” Etzebeth told the Irish media on Thursday.

But while physicality of the visitors presents its own challenges, Kiss has prepared the Irish players to deflect the attack on their senses and ability to make decisions in the face of South African pressure.

“It’s going to be a real tactical challenge in terms of how they do their kicking game and how they use their physicality,” adds Kiss. “South Africa will challenge your decision making and discipline in terms of how you play the game in your own half. By playing in your own half that doesn’t mean that you will always kick the ball back.

“What it means is, why would you kick and how good will be the pressure of your kickchase, the accuracy of the kick and your chase? So if you do that well enough you earn the right to play from your own end and we’ll find those moments if we’re prepared to accept that the challenge they’ll put to us is that they’ll kick the ball to us. So you say, ‘Okay, what does the world look like, what’s the landscape like now and what’s the best decision for now? How accurate can I be in my execution if it’s a kick, there are some opportunities for space, I’ll use the ball how accurate can I be with my passing at the next breakdown so I can start the play with the ball’.”

With little, if any, rain forecast for Saturday afternoon in Dublin kickers will not be hampered by a damp ball and the Irish back-three does not have the security of Rob Kearney under the high ball. With Simon Zebo likely to line out at No 15 inside of Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble it is entirely predictable that Lambie and Ruan Pienaar will seek to shake some loose change out of the Irish three-quarter line.

Pienaar, too, will know the weaknesses of his provincial team-mates and Trimble in particular has never excelled under the high ball.

Again, though, Kiss will have anticipated these tactics and the back three, along with Jonny Sexton and Conor Murray at half-back they will certainly play a crucial part in protecting the aerial assault on Irish territory. And the Irish assistant coach also underlines that adapting to counter these specific opponents in a game Ireland need to win, will not be a certain indicator of the gameplan that is likely to emerge in the Six Nations.

“I would say, that would not mean we will become a 60 per cent kicking team and 40 per cent [running team] you’re only talking five to 10 per cent of key decisions and we’re a good team that when we’re in control of certain pressure points of the game we can play the game from our end and cause some havoc. But we’ve got to understand when, where and why and how we’re going to do it,” he explains.

However, the meeting the Boks head on in the one part of the game that rugby in South Africa has always been built around will be an exhausting test for the Irish players and Kiss underlines the need not to allow that affect the team’s mental stamina.

“What you’re seeing in the game is exactly what Meyer and the Boks stand for. So there’s going to be some solid principals in place and those solid principals aren’t going to be easy to get around or over or through. If you’ve seen the Bulls success, albeit they haven’t been as consistent as they would have liked but they’ve had time to build systems.

“There’s a lot of certainty from what you’re going to get. What I have seen in particular in the game against Australia [during the Rugby Championship] there was a willingness to work an extra pass, go an extra channel. Look for a continuity off-loading game using their physical force then look for and then find a off-loading continuity game that they can work off the back of.

“They looked like they had a bit of success but it was still on the back of they have a baseline for abrasive, direct play, kick, make the opposition make poor decisions in their own area and then they’ll always be able to pick three, six, nine, 12 points in penalties and then the pressure’s on the opposition, who have to play more. That allows South Africa to find their off-loading and passing game and extra channel.”

The Boks are coming; don’t say you weren’t warned.

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