Defusing the ‘Nuke Squad’ to reach quarter-finals – 5 talking points for Ireland

Defusing the ‘Nuke Squad’ to reach quarter-finals – 5 talking points for Ireland

Ireland take on world champions South Africa in a pivotal Rugby World Cup clash in Paris.

Andy Farrell’s men top Pool B following bonus-point wins over Romania and Tonga, while the Springboks have also begun with back-to-back victories.

Here, the PA news agency picks out some of the main talking points. Test rugby’s top-ranked teams collide in one of the most eagerly anticipated pool stage matches in World Cup history.

Ireland have led the way since last summer’s historic tour success in New Zealand but face a heavyweight clash against the reigning champions early in the competition courtesy of the draw being made based on the rankings at the start of 2020.

Bookmakers have South Africa as marginal favourites, while Ireland head coach Farrell feels the rest of the world expects his side to lose. The Englishman is well aware of the fixture’s importance but insists it is not “do or die”.

Much has been made of South Africa’s bold decision to stack their bench with a seven-one split of forwards and backs. The Springboks successfully deployed the unusual strategy in last month’s crushing 35-7 warm-up win over the All Blacks.

South Africa boss Jacques Nienaber has divided opinion by using it in a World Cup fixture for the first time, while a mocked-up image circulating on social media depicting rival coach Farrell in a blast suit has provided some amusement in the Ireland camp.

The former dual-code international talked down the significance of South Africa’s tactical statement of intent and urged his players to stick to their own strengths.

Ireland have the opportunity to secure a quarter-final spot with a game to spare, while South Africa could also take a significant step towards the last eight. The Six Nations champions have won seven of the last 11 meetings between the sides, including a 19-16 success in November.

Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus this week referenced the head-to-head results while also highlighting Ireland’s record of never having won a World Cup knockout match.

“A few of my friends said that Ireland is our bogey team, but the World Cup is Ireland’s bogey competition,” he said. The victors will almost certainly top Pool B and probably avoid hosts France in the next round.

Following sojourns in Bordeaux and Nantes, Ireland will hope to make Paris a permanent home for the five next weeks. All of their remaining fixtures – up to five in total – will be staged at Stade de France.

The stadium has not been a particularly happy hunting ground in recent times. Two of the seven losses suffered in the 40 matches of Farrell’s reign have come in Saint-Denis: costly Six Nations defeats to France in 2020 and 2022.

Yet there will be a different complexion to this weekend’s game. Instead of enduring a partisan crowd, Ireland will be backed by around 30,000 travelling fans, giving a neutral venue the feel of a home fixture.

Ireland have been relatively fortunate with injuries so far. But the facial fracture which has cast doubt on France captain Antoine Dupont’s future participation in the tournament is a reminder to all teams of the potential risk of losing key players.

In a major boost, first-choice hooker Dan Sheehan is back on the bench this weekend, awaiting his first outing since sustaining a foot problem in last month’s warm-up win over England.

Sheehan has shone since making his Test debut less than two years ago. Farrell hailed the Leinster man as “world class” and his availability could make a major difference moving forward.

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