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Page last updated at 06:31 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009

Jeremy Guscott's tactical view

By Jeremy Guscott
Former Bath, England and Lions centre

I'm not exactly bursting with excitement about Saturday's match between Ireland and South Africa because of the way the Springboks play.

They have a simple tactic - stick the ball up in the air, chase it, then crush and destroy.

Add in the way Ireland played against Australia - even allowing for an improvement against Fiji - and I'm not expecting an absolute belter.

I have to say I'm not sure how Ireland are going to play because although new fly-half Jonathan Sexton is a bit of a like for like replacement for Ronan O'Gara, he has the ability to run it a bit more.

However, I wonder whether his nerve is going to hold out, and whether he will be able to get his backline moving?

He has Paddy Wallace lining up inside him and I really don't get that because I can only see that backline playing one way - and that is going wide and using its pace.

O'Driscoll tips Sexton to shine

Because their backline is quite small that is their only option and I don't see how they can run enough decoys to disguise where they are going to attack.

That's the dilemma facing Ireland, because with Wallace you can't go smashing up the middle.

You don't want to send Brian O'Driscoll into that area because he'll get injured and although Tommy Bowe is OK at that role, Rob Kearney is not the biggest in that kind of congestion.

With South Africa it's always route one but I'd love to see them try something different.

They have a set pattern of play - kick, line of defence, squeeze, force an error, kick, penalty - and I'm afraid it's a winning formula.

In their Tri-Nations match against Australia in Perth they went out there and tested themselves to prove they could play a more creative, attacking style - they ended up winning 32-25 and it was a fantastic game of rugby.

But I think they are now exhausted after a long season and the idea of a friendly, with nothing at stake, may not be overly appealing.

Their style of play is really tiring - I'm not sure people realise how tiring it is but defence is harder because it is more physically demanding.

If a team is going backwards and being battered it is harder physically and mentally.

But if it's not broke, there's no need to fix it and I think Peter de Villiers will revert to type because they're getting a bit of a slagging for losing games.

South Africa are a bit like England in the period leading up to and including the World Cup win in 2003 - their forwards have real presence, although centre Jaque Fourie is one of their key players.

Their line-out is superb and they have a great balance in the second row because Bakkies Botha is the enforcer and that gives Victor Matfield free rein to do what he wants.

He's not the biggest guy in the world - he's tall but he's certainly not heavy - and it is down to Botha to provide the muscle.

Bryan Habana scythes through the Lions defence during summer 2009
Habana is a lethal runner but is his kicking up to scratch?

One person they will miss is injured number eight Pierre Spies, and it's interesting to see they have decided to move captain John Smit back to hooker after his spell at prop.

I think a good kicking side should do pretty well against South Africa but I don't think the idea has really been entertained.

They've relied on sides running it back and they've then squeezed them, particularly sides like New Zealand.

But when you look at the Boks' back three, Bryan Habana can't kick very well, Zane Kirchner's not the best kicker in the world and the same is true for JP Pietersen (see Flash movie at top of page).

I would be tempted to turn the wingers and make them kick, which I don't believe they can do very well.

It really should be an area to attack and Ireland should have the weaponry to do it - full-back Kearney has a sweet left foot, Sexton can kick well and O'Driscoll is improving his kicking.

Most of South Africa's kicks will be high and they will chase with their centres and back row (see Flash movie at top of page).

Even off line-out ball they will get it off the top and stick the up and under up.


They're very streetwise and it's a tactic that's been tried and practised for the best part of three seasons now and it works - they won the World Cup in 2007 and this summer they beat the Lions and then followed up by winning the Tri-Nations.

I thought Ireland captain O'Driscoll was pretty ineffective against Australia, in fact the whole team was.

It was their first game for a while and they didn't really get going.

Around Tommy Bowe's try there was a period of five or 10 minutes when I thought Ireland might cut loose but they were affected by the fear that all the sides are suffering from at the moment.

The fear of losing is triumphing over the joy of winning.

Ireland's backline says to me they're going to run the ball but I think they'll be in South Africa's 22 before they think about doing it.

I think they have got to be brave and move the ball but as I said before the first option I would look at is putting the ball between Kirchner and the wingers and forcing them to kick, because I don't think they can kick very well (see Flash movie at top of page).

I might be proved wrong, but that would be my tactic.

Jeremy Guscott was talking to BBC Sport's James Standley.

You can watch live coverage of Ireland v South Africa on BBC One and online from 1415 GMT on Saturday, 28 November

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see also
O'Gara out as Sexton faces Boks
26 Nov 09 |  Irish
Boks switch Smit as Botha starts
26 Nov 09 |  Irish
Jeremy Guscott Q&A
23 Nov 09 |  Rugby Union
Jeremy Guscott's tactical view
20 Nov 09 |  English

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