Team Announcement Press Conference: Ireland

Team Announcement Press Conference: Ireland

Andy Farrell, head coach

On the fitness of hooker Dan Sheehan, who returns to the match-day 23:

“Dan is obviously fit and raring to go and in fine condition. He’s a world-class hooker in my opinion and he gets his chance to get his tournament under way.

On bringing back Jamison Gibson-Park at scrum-half:

“We just want him being himself and producing the form he has produced for us throughout his time as an Irish international. The pace and skillset he brings to our game is something we all enjoy watching.”

On what he makes of South Africa’s seven-one bench split:

“I think it’s great. It obviously suits them and they obviously know their squad and what fits for them and so do we. I did pose the question to our forwards coaches as to whether we should go with seven backs and one forward, but they weren’t up for that! I think it shows they know exactly where they want to go with their game plan and we do the same with the subs we pick as well.”

On whether the Springboks’ selection made him pause about what Ireland should do:

“No, not at all, never once.”

On how important it is for Ireland to stick with their tried-and-trusted formula?

“There are all sort of different permutations. Even with a five-three split, you can’t cover everything. But you need to be adaptable, which is something we have worked hard at with our planning over the last few years. I suppose they have done exactly the same with the seven-one split. I love it, I respect it. I like the fact they know their squad and brought four scrum-halves over, a hooker who has not really played in that specialist position before. It shows they know their players and which direction they want to go. Hopefully they think the same about us as well.”

On the toughest selection calls he had to make: 

“There are plenty constantly. The conversations I have to have during the week are difficult ones because they all want to play and deservedly so because they are good players in their own right. But we have got to make the right decision for the team for this particular game and those conversations are never easy, but the players make them easier because they understand the team always comes first.”

On whether the Boks’ seven-one bench split puts extra pressure on his players:

“I don’t see it like that at all. I am pretty confident in the five forwards we have got coming off the bench and the impact they’re going to have and the type of game we’re going to play when that happens. It doesn’t have any bearing as far as that’s concerned. We’ve been able to analyse them with the seven-one split, and not that much changes. Obviously they are fresh and they got dominance set-piece-wise in that game [a warm-up test against New Zealand] but we would back our players to do the same.”

On whether South Africa were trying to test what Ireland’s reaction might be:

“I don’t know, it doesn’t really bother me. It is just about us. We have to be good, we have to play really well to beat the world champions because they are in good form. Barring us and our team and management and the Irish people all over the world, I think everyone thinks they’re the favourites and they’re going to win this game. I can see why because of the form they’ve shown in the last couple of games. But we don’t think like that. We are ready for a tough battle and it will take its own course.”

On whether their 15-match winning run has prepared them for this game:

“Our journey’s had all sorts and it prepares you for things like this. I’m sure we’ll learn a bit more after this one as well.”

On how important it is psychologically to their Rugby World Cup campaign to win:

“It is not a must win, it is not a do-or-die game but it is pretty important to both teams, let’s put it that way. It’s always nice to win but we have always looked at ourselves mainly in terms of performance. It’s a big game, there will be over 30,000 Irish supporters in a stadium we know well. We want to get back to winning ways there, so it is a challenge we are ready for, looking forward to and it is coming soon.”

On his initial reaction to the Boks’ seven-one bench split:

“Honestly, I didn’t have a reaction. We analyse South Africa like we analyse everyone else. But when it comes down it, we take care of ourselves more than anything else and try to understand our plan.

"I think more importantly than the seven-one split, which is a bit irrelevant to us, is the last game we played against each other [Ireland won 19-16 in Dublin in November 2022]. I’m sure they think they know us a bit better and maybe that might have influenced the split. But we feel the same. We feel we could have performed better on that occasion and both teams have the opportunity to show that at the weekend.”

Johnny Sexton, captain

On how he views Saturday’s match:

“We are playing the world champions, they are a very, very good team who have been coming into some great form over the last number of weeks, so we're going to have to be on top form to get a result.”

On what kind of performance it’s going to take to beat South Africa:

“A top one on both sides of the ball. Their defence is obviously renowned for the line speed they come at you with, so we need to be on top of our game when we have the ball. Obviously with the way they have been playing recently - going wide, wide and being direct in certain areas of the field, bringing a strong kicking game - they test you in every aspect of the game and that is why we are going to have to be on top form.”

On whether South Africa have an ‘aura’ about them:

Any time you play the Springboks it is the same. They are a huge jersey in international rugby. But we are pretty proud of ours as well and I’m sure it will be a great game.”

On whether Ireland have to change the way they attack against the Springboks:

“You have to make certain tweaks of course, like every week, whether that is from Romania to Tonga, or England to Samoa [in their warm-up tests]. There is always tweaks around the system they play, the personnel they have. There is always that going on in the background.”

On what makes the Stade de France such a special place to play:

“It’s usually the French fans that make the atmosphere there, but hopefully we’ll have the majority of the support on Saturday. It’s rumoured there will be 30,000 Irish fans there and the support we get for World Cups in particular is incredible. Last week there was Irish green everywhere and the same the week before. I’m sure it will be the same again. Hats off to the people who put their hands in their pockets and come over. It means a lot to us and hopefully we'll give them something to cheer about.”

On whether he is taking in the atmosphere more in his last Rugby World Cup:

“Erm…[Andy Farrell interjects – “he has not left the hotel!”]. You soak up the atmosphere but it is only when you win, that’s when you get to enjoy it. If you are walking around the stadium after a defeat, it is not the same. I’ve been able to enjoy the first two, but that is just because we’ve got some good results.”

Bundee Aki, centre

On winning his 50th cap against South Africa on Saturday:

“It’s a huge occasion but I’m trying not to treat it as a big occasion but just what I’d do in a normal week. Obviously it’s the world champions but for myself and my family, it’s a huge honour to pull on the jersey 50 times. I don’t take it lightly. Every time you put on that the jersey, you try to play the best you can and put your best foot forward.”

On whether when he moved to Ireland he thought he would win 50 caps:

“No, not a hope. To be able to get to 50 is probably like getting to 100 [for someone else]. Fifty is a big number and I know hard it is to get to 100. I’m just quite lucky to be able to put on this jersey for a 50th time and I’ll look forward to it.”

On what he will feel like pre-match:

“I’m trying to take the emotion out of it and just focus on what I need to do – be the best player I can for my team-mates.”

On what he puts his current form down to:

“Just the environment and the group we have. I am just quite lucky to get on the end of some of those tries, after the way some of the boys set up the ball for us and make our jobs a lot easier than normal. Everyone is doing a good job and I am lucky enough to be on end of it.”

On whether he has always been as quick as he has shown at this Rugby World Cup:

“I always back myself in being quick but I have to prove to these boys now and again that I am quicker than them…which I’m not.”

On whether he is in the best shape ever:

“I think the S&C [strength and conditioning] crew put a good programme together for us in pre-season. It’s a big difference from 2019 anyway, from the way I was. ‘Faz’ told me straightway not to go back there! But I’m in good nick, thanks to the S&C group and the programme they put us through.”

Garry Ringrose, centre

On whether it’s tougher to switch off in a week like this:

“It’s a massive week when you’re playing against a team of the quality of South Africa. You want to make sure you do absolutely everything right preparation-wise. The challenge individually is to focus on that and make sure you tick those boxes. But then you try to get out to dinner or spend a bit of time with the lads. They’re good craic and that breaks up the week and makes you relax more.

“It is definitely a challenge in big weeks. We have been staying in a wee hotel in Tours, in a bit of a bubble. It is probably only when you get to the stadium and see thousands of Irish supporters, you realise what’s going on outside. But these are the weeks you want to be a part of and enjoy.”

On how hard it is to stay composed against the Springboks:

“It plays a huge part because of the quality of side they are. They will put us under pressure more than several times I’d say, as they do every week, that is why they’re so good. So you have to try to stay composed. If they do get us, you have to react in the best way possible for the team, and try to put in our own best performance. It will be a test for us against one of the best teams in world rugby.”

On how difficult it will be to break down South Africa:

“Incredibly difficult. They pride themselves on their defence, they are really well organised. Maybe from the outside it looks chaotic but you can see they’re all on the same page and have players who can make a massive impact defensively. It will put our attack under huge stress and the challenge is to try to deal with that. Hopefully we can perform to the level we want to and expect. On the other side, attacking-wise they have some of the most dangerous individuals in world rugby, on top, top form, so when we don’t have the ball, there is no room to switch off concentration-wise, otherwise you concede. That is not even mentioning the physical challenge. So it is a concoction of everything and we need to be on it.”

On to what extent the way the Boks defend is a threat but also an opportunity for Ireland:

“It is an element of both. It is a huge threat. They score off the back of their defence a load. They put you under pressure and force teams to go away from what they’re good at, but we’re challenging ourselves to be organised attacking-wise, to be able to deal with that pressure, play in the right areas and find space when we can.

“It is easier said than done. I’ve no doubt teams go into games with South Africa with a plan, but pretty quickly that plan goes out the door when that defensive pressure comes on. It is such a big threat but a challenge we are relishing because it is testing ourselves against one of the best defensive teams. It is definitely a huge threat but if we get it right, hopefully it can be an opportunity too.”

On his partnership with Bundee Aki:

“I consider myself lucky to play alongside Bundee. Everyone in the group is unbelievably happy to see him get to 50, for him and his family. When he first came over, he captured everyone’s hearts at Connacht but he has also done that from the moment he put on the Irish jersey. It couldn’t be more deserved and I consider myself lucky to play alongside him and I know the other centres would say the exact same thing.”

On whether facing South Africa is the biggest physical test in world rugby:

“Whenever you’re playing a test match, you have to get yourself mentally ready for that physical battle. This week is no different in that regard – you have to get to that head space to be able to perform. But South Africa pride themselves on their physicality so the challenge is to get to that level and maybe even a bit more might be needed. It is certainly one of the biggest tests we have faced.

“You want to test yourself in the toughest environments. From my experiences, good or bad, you get something from it. You want a chance in the toughest games and challenges to see how you go.”

On what’s it like to face South Africa’s rush defence:

“It’s really rough. It’s not by chance they get it, it’s coached well and it’s a nightmare for a lot of teams to play against. Sometimes you get blind-sided and you don’t see it, so the challenge is to be scanning as much as possible and read body language and cues, but that’s hard to do.

“If the ball has gone away from you, it is about getting connected with your own players to hopefully try to make them make decisions. But they are so many good defenders in the team, they usually make the right decisions. There is a whole host of things you need to get right.”

On his own role at outside-centre:

“A lot of the time I rely on guys around me to pick up guys when I have missed tackles. I’ll be asking that of Bundee this week! With the pace they have out wide and the counter-attack threat they have, you can’t really defend on your own against some of their individuals.

“They have the physical ability to keep winning the gain line with their centres, but also their speed and footwork and kicking ability as well. You just have to be concentrated and a step ahead, try to read body language, certain cues you might have picked up from watching them. That is the challenge of it. I’m sure we’ll get it wrong sometimes, but hopefully we’ll get more right than wrong.”

Andrew Porter, prop

On whether he prepares to play the full 80 minutes:

 “For every game, you have to be prepared to go the distance if it’s that type of game and you’re asked to. Sometimes I find myself looking over to the bench when I’m getting a bit tired and wondering if they’re going to bring someone on. But for the most part, mentally I try to prepare myself for the full 80. I pride myself on my fitness. I did a lot of work with the S&C coaches in pre-season to get to a level I am happy with. Every game is different with its own demands, so this weekend will be a good test of that.”

On what characterises the Springboks scrum:

“It is just their power. It is the DNA of their game. They are one of those power-based teams, looking to scrum for penalties and get territory off that. They have incredible scrummagers all across the board. Even on the bench, they have great output there. But we have seen what we can do, the last time we played them. We have definitely improved in our scrum and in all facets of our game. I should probably do more analysis of other teams but I like to focus more on ourselves and we have definitely improved. We are well capable of dealing with anything they can throw at us.”

On whether facing South Africa last November was a key part of the Irish scrum’s progress:

“Yes, especially since they are still the world champions. We went up against them that day and took a lot of encouragement from that game. It’s obviously not just the front row, everyone has to be on their game and if one person is off, everything can change and it can be disastrous. That’s what we’ve been going after this whole pre-season, the warm-up games and our first two games as well. We’ve had complete buy-in from all eight forwards and even a few of the backs. We take huge encouragement from previous performances.”

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