Ireland head coach Andy Farrell was always going to be asked about South Africa’s 7:1 bench split for Saturday night’s World Cup showdown in Paris.
It’s been the talk of the town since Jacques Nienaber named his squad on Tuesday, replicating a split first used when his Springboks side thrashed New Zealand in Twickenham four weeks ago.
On that occasion, at 21-0 up in a game that finished 35-7, the world champions introduced all seven forwards in the 47th minute.
Six of that seven, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Jean Kleyn, RG Snyman, Marco van Staden and Kwagga Smith, are on the bench for the Stade de France showdown, with hooker Deon Fourie the new man in.
More regularly used in the back row, the 36-year-old is the replacement for Bongi Mbonambi, who starts instead of the injured Malcolm Marx.
Nienaber admitted that his selection for the London friendly was made with the Pool B clash against Ireland in mind. Against Romania last week, the South African 23 contained four scrum-halves for their round-two win over Romania.
Farrell named an orthodox 5:3 bench split when he revealed his line-up earlier on Thursday.
“I love it, I respect it,” he said of the call.
“I like the fact that they know the squad, bringing four scrum-halves over, and a hooker that’s not really played in the specialist position before.
“It shows that they know their players, their team and which direction they want to go. Hopefully they think the same about us as well
“I think it’s great, it obviously suits them. They know their squad and what fits for them and so do we.
“There are all sorts of permutations. 100% with a 5:3 split, you can’t cover everything. But you need to be adaptable and it’s something we’ve worked hard within our planning over the last few years, to be able to do that, to be able to adapt.
“I suppose they’ve done exactly the same with a 7:1 split in mind.
“It’s a little bit different for you guys [the media] but for us, we analyse South Africa like we analyse everyone else but when it really comes down to it we take care of ourselves more than anyone else and try and understand our plan.
“I’m pretty confident in the five forwards that we’ve got coming off the bench and the impact that they are going to have in the game and the type of game that we want to play when that happens.
“It doesn’t have any bearing as far as that’s concerned. We have been able to analyse them before with the 7:1 split. Not that much changes, obviously, they are fresh, set-piece-wise dominance that they got in that game but we back our players to do the same.
Ireland have beaten South Africa in their last two meetings, in 2017, and last autumn’s 16-13 win at the Aviva Stadium.
“More importantly, than the 7:1 split, which is a bit irrelevant to us, is the last game we played against each other,” Farrell said.
“I’m sure they think they know us a little bit better and maybe that might have influenced the 7:1 split but we feel the same, we feel we could have performed better on that occasion.”
Both sides have won two from two so far and the race for the top two qualifying places is likely to come down to the final round when Ireland face Scotland in Paris on 7 October.
“It’s not a must-win, it’s not a do-or-die type of game but it’s pretty important to both teams, let’s put it that way,” said the 48-year-old, who took over the reins in 2019.
“It’s always nice to win but we’ve always looked at ourselves mainly as far as the performance goes. It’s a challenge that we are ready for and looking forward to.”
Asked about the challenge posed by the three-time Webb Ellis winners, captain Johnny Sexton said: “A top one, on both sides of the ball, because their defence is 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.
“And the way they’ve been playing recently in terms of going wide-wide and then being direct, in certain areas of the field bringing a strong kicking game.
“They test you in every facet of the game and that’s why they are world champions and we have to be on top of our game.”
‘I did pose the question to our forwards coaches, we was going to go with a 7:1 split – seven backs and one forward. But they weren’t up for that”
— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) September 21, 2023
Watch live coverage of Ireland v South Africa (Saturday, 8pm) on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player, listen to live commentary on RTÉ Radio 1, and follow live updates on RTÉ Sport Online and the RTÉ News app.