Lack of match fitness could cost Ireland against South Africa

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International rugby is back and I for one am very happy about that.

Ireland takes on world champions South Africa in the Aviva in Dublin on Saturday and it has all the makings to be a proper tough test of rugby.

The men in green have had a great run of form in the past twelve months and South Africa won’t take this lightly as we can tell from their team selection.

South Africa have named a very strong side which Ireland can take as a sign of respect from the world champions. Both teams will be viewing this as a proper warm up for the upcoming twelve months and whichever team gets the win on Saturday, you can be sure they will use it as fuel when both teams meet again in France.

Ireland have had a historic twelve months. Competing hard in the six nations and winning the triple crown at the start of the Spring and then becoming the first Irish team to not only beat New Zealand on their home soil, but to then go on and win a series also.

Confidence and belief, as they should be, are at an all time high with this team.

Andy Farrell has done a wonderful job in his tenure, especially after a rocky start.

A timely reminder that coaches need time before us fans can make a judgement on them.

The Irish team named is a strong one on paper.

My only worry is the lack of game time some of the players have had.

Hugo Keenan who is undoubtedly a superstar, hasn’t played this season so far for Leinster. No matter how good you are, playing your first game in months against a full-strength South Africa team is a tough ask. Tadhg Furlong who again is a superstar, hasn’t played much and will be doing battle with a world cup winning front row. Peter O’Mahony has been out injured the previous few weeks and although we all know what a warrior he is and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he had a stormer of a game, its still a lot to ask of a player.

A lot has been said about Conor Murray. I myself have been very critical of his inclusion at certain times and I believe I am right in my criticism.

However, Conor Murray is making his 100th appearance for Ireland on Saturday and that is an incredible accomplishment and one he deserves.  Conor Murray is Ireland’s greatest ever number nine. Stringer fans won’t be happy to hear that but Murray at his peak was just better. Murray has been involved in nearly all of Irelands great days the past ten years and has been on three Lions tours and captained a Lions team also. His CV is incredible.

So, what does a win or a loss on Saturday mean? You could argue a win, or a loss doesn’t mean a whole pile and I would tend to agree with you.

However, I think the Irish team can take what they choose from the result on Saturday.

A loss and you can say you lost to the World Champions with a team that is undercooked and will only get better as the weeks go on.

The only bad result would be a good old-fashioned beat down. It’s tough to put that down to anything other than not good enough.

A win and you can really use that as a springboard to launch into the next year. Now I know a win on Saturday does not mean a guaranteed win over South Africa in France, but it will add to the belief that Ireland can beat anyone, anywhere. This time last year Ireland beat New Zealand in Dublin. If you don’t think that had a huge part in Ireland beating New Zealand in New Zealand, then I would have to disagree.

You can believe you can beat a team as much as you want in your head, but actually doing it, actually producing what you knew you could, that is a whole new level of belief. Beating South Africa on Saturday is not do or die, but it just could be the start of a special year for Ireland.

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