Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell, flanker Josh van der Flier and wing Mack Hansen

Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell, flanker Josh van der Flier and wing Mack Hansen

Paul O’Connell, forwards coach

On what sort of performance it will take to beat the Springboks:

“It’s going to take a big performance for sure. They are an excellent side, they have been together a long time as a group and a coaching group, they understand how they want to play and deal with certain situations in a game. They have developed their game since the last World Cup and a lot since last November in particular. Our boys are under no doubt about how big a challenge it is.

“They obviously present a big physical challenge – I think we present a big physical challenge as well – but also a really technical challenge. They are a very smart side. That is probably one of the things you admire the most - the smarts they can bring along with their physicality.

"It’s a strength of our side as well. We speak about this Irish team and what they stand for. They have got to bring everything they have brought to big occasions over the last few years – a Test series decider down in in New Zealand in Wellington, a Grand Slam decider, a tough autumn series against some very tricky opposition. We have always found a way and figured it out and it is a real strength of theirs. They are going to have play super well tomorrow but also figure things out, which is something I really enjoy watching them do when they have a challenge in front of them.”

On whether the absence of hooker Malcolm Marx makes the South Africa lineout more contestable:

“I don’t know about that. Deon Fourie has always looked very competent to me. I remember when I was down here in France watching him swapping from the back-row into hooker for Lyon and he was absolutely incredible. With a coaching staff who have been together a long time, they know their lineouts. There isn’t a whole lot of change. They have a lot of continuity in that regard, they have very good options in the air. I would say they feel pretty confident about it. Deon Fourie is a wise campaigner, he’s been around, he’s really experienced. We will be trying to pressure them for sure, but in the same way we would try to pressure any hooker that comes off the bench.”

On whether everyone is fit after training:

“Everyone trained today, there are no problems. We had 33 all training so it was great to have them all out there.”

On whether the injury to France star Antoine Dupont was a reminder of what can happen at RWCs:

“Nothing is ever straightforward. We were down in New Zealand last year and we had to leave Mack [Hansen] in the park to train on his own because he had Covid. Some of the coaching staff had Covid.  We’ve had all sorts of challenges thrown at us. The big strength of Andy [Farrell] is he revels in it and enjoys it. There is no doubt there are going to be ups and down in a World Cup and in games. Players’ experience and their willingness to embrace those challenges and obstacles is what got them to where they are at the moment. There’ll be plenty of that tomorrow, no doubt about it.”

On how long he’s been planning for this game and where it ranks for him as a coach:

“It’s right up there. Obviously we have known our pool opponents for quite some time, so there’s been plenty of chat about it and days where we’ve had a particular focus on teams within the pool, to figure out what they’re about and what we need to be on that day. The fact we’ve known for a little longer means you have more time, but it’s not been massively different.

"One thing you can’t do on these occasions is move away from how you prepare and what you stand for. You have to tweak things a little bit so you are ready for the opposition, for sure, but one of our big strengths is understanding what we’re about and how we go about delivering that. It’s hard enough every week ensuring we deliver what we stand for. We do focus on the opposition but not as much as you might think.”

On South Africa’s 7-1 bench split of forwards and backs:

“I don’t have a problem with it, that’s for sure. If you have guys to cover there, it makes sense, if you feel it gives you something, fair play to them. Our plan is five-three, theirs is seven-one. I don’t give it a whole lot more thought than that.”

On his reaction to Antoine Dupont’s injury and the possibility of him missing a quarter-final:

“I’ve not heard anything if he’s out or not, but I was disappointed for him. He’s obviously a brilliant player on unbelievable form. A lot of teams play very similar rugby but he makes them very unpredictable. He’s very unorthodox in how he plays the game – the way he runs across the pitch, he kicks off both feet, he’s very strong in the tackle for a scrum-half, so he gives them a real unpredictable edge to their attack. If he’s gone, there’s no doubt he will be a loss. It would be a shame if he’s out of the tournament because he’s a brilliant player and he adds to the tournament. I hope he’s OK. We will see what happens in the quarter-finals.”

Josh van der Flier, openside flanker

On whether the selection is a vote of confidence in the players and their plan:

“Andy [Farrell] and the coaches have been great. They trust everyone in the squad and the way we play, anyone can come in and do a good job. There is quality throughout the team. Whoever is picked has the full confidence from all the players and coaches that they’ll be able to do a good job. Everyone who has the opportunity to play tomorrow is unbelievably excited.”

On the physical dimension of South Africa and how they overcome it:

“They are definitely a very physical team and something we have got very used from any South Africa team. It is part of their DNA. From our side, rugby is a physical game, every game has a lot of physicality to it. We know have to be at our best in that area. They are very smart, they come up with some good plays as well, so it is not just the physical confrontation they bring. Of course we need physicality but it’s going to need a good all-round performance in every area.”

On facing Siya Kolisi and the other South African flankers at the breakdown:

“There is some quality throughout the South Africa team, especially the breakdown threat. We will certainly be trying to stop them getting turnovers and competing on our ball. Everyone has a role to play in that. It’s a huge threat and something that has worked really well for South Africa and South African teams in the URC as well. It’ll definitely be a big challenge and something we looked at earlier in the week. But now we are thinking about our own performance, trying to be as good as we can be, and hopefully that stops them having a big effect on the game.”

On how much the players are relishing the prospect of a large Irish support at the Stade de France:

“It’s absolutely incredible. These are the games you want to be playing at, at an unbelievable stadium here at the Stade de France. I have played here a few times now, with a few Irish fans but mostly French fans. It will be even more special playing tomorrow.  It’s every kid’s dream to get to play in front of that many Irish fans at a World Cup in a stadium like this, against a team like South Africa. It’s a dream come true and everyone is incredibly excited.”

Mack Hansen, right-wing

On whether Saturday will be like a ‘final within a finals’:

“It’s great.  It’s kind of what we’ve been working towards for the last three years I’ve been here, and four for some of the lads. We are super exited for it. It’s a big step up from the previous games we have had but it’s everything we’ve been working for this whole time.”

On how much pleasure this game will bring him:

“It’s probably everything you dream of growing up. You never know if it’s going to happen, so for something like this to finally come around, playing in a World Cup against the defending champions, is something you always hope to be involved in. To get this opportunity to play with this team is super special. There are a few nerves here and there but that is what it’s all about. Rugby is made for these kind of games. To be involved in it is pretty incredible, especially alongside guys like Josh and guys in their third or fourth World Cup like Johnny [Sexton].”

On facing South African wings Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse:

“They are arguably two of the best wingers in the world, and Kolbe arguably one of the best wingers of all time. I was lucky enough to have game against Kolbe in the autumn, and I played against Kurt [for Connacht] when he was with the Bulls. You can’t really get used to playing against these lads at all, but I have played them a couple of times now which is nice. I have my thing that I’ll do to try to get ready for it and get my mindset ready. The rest will come down to how I perform and what I can bring to stop them.”

On whether he will have an interesting haircut tomorrow:

“I don’t know, maybe, now you’ve put in in my head. I’ll try to think of something for you.”

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