Autumn Nations Series preview: Split image with Murray, Sexton, Willemse and Kolbe

Autumn Nations Series: Ireland to top Springboks in Dublin thriller

The Autumn Nations Series has finally arrived in full force, and this weekend features a blockbuster match that will see world number one Ireland take on the world champions Springboks at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Ireland are red-hot, having won 14 of their last 16 matches, and snatched the top spot after an unprecedented series victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand in July.

The Springboks have been hot and cold in 2022 but have built depth and dealt with injuries. Still, the world champions can topple any side on their day, especially given the quality at their disposal.

The importance and seriousness of this Test does not end there, as these two teams are in the same pool and will meet in the group stage of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, making the Dublin Test the most lavish of dry runs.

Ireland will bring complex structure, enviable accuracy and detached rugby intelligence, while the Springboks will bring brutality, commitment and sheer grit.

Brace yourselves for what will be a vintage Test match and possibly the game of the year.

Where the game will be won

Head coach Andy Farrell’s Irish team defines complexity in every aspect of the game. In attack, the structures are so detailed that a ball runner usually has at least two or three options to use, which is where skipper Johnny Sexton’s creative genius is most potent.

None of that is possible without a platform set by the forwards, which is one of the areas the game will be won. If Ireland’s pack are dominant in the collision and at the set-piece, their attack will have plenty of decision time to find a way through or around the Springboks’ rushing defensive structure which can become painfully thin under pressure. It will be a huge challenge for Jesse Kriel to make good decisions as the outside center plays a key role in the Springbok defence.

Conversely, if the Springboks find dominance in this area, particularly with the ‘Bomb Squad’ off the bench, who have been selected to target the breakdown later on, then the Irish attack will have less time to make decisions and in turn come into play in the defensive structure.

With rain forecast for the morning and the unpredictability of Ireland’s weather, territory will be paramount, and the aerial battle will come with it. The selection of soon-to-be centurion Conor Murray at scrum-half suggests an aerial assault on the back three springboks, who will need to be brilliant in the air and sound in defensive positioning.

Young half-back pair Jaden Hendrikse and Damian Willemse will need to be perfect with their off-hand and off-the-tee kicks on Saturday for the Springboks to stay in the game and get a result.

The last time they met

What they said

Ireland captain Sexton played down his side’s world ranking and set his sights on the World Cup.

“We’re not talking about being number one. To be number one in the world you have to win the World Cup, that’s where the goals are,” he said.

“Obviously you want to be the best in Europe, you want to win the Six Nations, those are our goals; it has nothing to do with being number one and I don’t think a lot of teams are reading too much into it.”

Sexton also underlined how the Springboks deserve respect as world champions.

“We have to give them the respect they absolutely deserve,” added the veteran, with the Springboks having named an exciting starting XV for Dublin.

“They are the best team in the world in terms of being world champions. They are a top team.”

Springbok rugby manager Rassie Erasmus expects a tough challenge from Ireland, while admitting he was happy to be back involved in matchday activities after his suspension was completed. The return of Erasmus could be a trump card up the sleeve of the Dublin visitors.

“We got a proper hiding here last time and then we won the Rugby World Cup two years later, and it’s now five years later,” he said.

“Ireland do a lot on and off the pitch, so we know we are in for tough competition, especially with their passionate crowd on their side.

“The fact that the teams are up against each other in next year’s Rugby World Cup will certainly spice it up, but we know what we’re in for. We won here last time in 2012, but we both have new teams and new plans.

“It will be great to be back in the coaches’ box,” he added. “I love rugby, match days and being in the dressing room with the boys. It wasn’t a nice feeling to prepare with the team all week only to see the bus go and return to my room, so I’m looking forward to Saturday.”

Players to watch

Veteran scrum-half Conor Murray will win his 100th cap on Saturday in a stellar career. The Irishman is one of the best box kickers in the game, has solid distribution and a powerful rugby mind. His partnership with Sexton is vital to the clash Ireland will want to control with an incisive kicking game that puts pressure on one of the smaller back threes seen in Test rugby for some time. Murray is a Rolls-Royce and consistent in what he delivers, a milestone game for the Irish great and one where his attributes rule the game.

Loose head prop Andrew Porter plays a significant role in this Test against one of the best scrum-mages in Springbok history in Frans Malherbe. This is a pressure point that the visitors will look to exploit, and Porter will need to hold strong at scrum time. If the 26-year-old achieves parity with his opposite number, then a key area of ​​the Springboks ethos is disarmed. A great performance is required of the great man.

The engine in the Irish package is none other than Josh van der Flier. The rugby world needs no introduction to the sheer work rate of the flanker. He will be all over the place on Saturday and will completely empty the tank as he always does. Ireland use the Leinsterman’s rugby intelligence to combat key aspects of the opposition’s attacking structures. Against New Zealand, it nullified the wide crash ball played by the scrum-half that took multiple defenders out of play with each use of it in the first Test. For the rest of the series it was his job to combat that game, and he did, allowing Ireland to dismantle their attack. Van der Flier will be given the blueprint to dismantle the Springboks attack.

Outside the pack, who all need to perform as a unit, one of rugby’s most exciting talents, Cheslin Kolbe, returns to a Springbok jersey but with 15 on his back for the first time. The hot-stepper is no stranger to full-back, having played most of his time with the Stormers there and occasionally for Toulouse, so he will have no problem stepping in. His danger speaks for itself, everyone knows he is extremely elusive, but Saturday will require more than just that; Kolbe will need to be well placed defensively, survive an aerial attack and kick well outside his attacking duties. Still, this is an intriguing selection that could see a more dynamic Springbok attack. His biggest contribution will be to show he can pass a test from the back, with Sexton and Murray constantly searching for where to trap him. This is a huge game for Kolbe.

Another exciting selection is Kurt-Lee Arendse on the right wing, offering a fairly similar package to Kolbe. Again, the attacking qualities of the Bulls man are evident and have been on display in the Test arena. Simply put, he is an evasive threat with the ball in hand. Arendse’s biggest challenge will be in the air, however, and as more of a full-back for his club side, the speedster should do well against Ireland’s Mack Hansen. It’s an exciting but bold decision to have both Kolbe and Arendse in the same back three, and now the Bulls star must repay the faith.

Jaden Hendrikse is undoubtedly one of the finds of the Test season for the Springboks. The scrum half has a natural ability to read the game and play instinctively. He constantly looks for space in and behind the defensive line, distributes well enough and is a decent kicker. The Shark could be the Springboks starter at the World Cup, but before that he must put in the most accurate kicking performance he has ever produced at Test level. He must be commanding and cunning. Hendrikse has the ability, but given the mercurial experience of Ireland’s half-back pairing, only perfect will be good enough on Saturday.


The match to watch this week comes in the form of polar opposites; a mercurial, experienced, specialist fly-half meets an elusive, bubbly and confident utility star. It’s a mouth-watering head-to-head between Johnny Sexton and Damian Willemse.

Sexton is an absolute champion. His vision is second to none, his skills remarkable, but most of all his rugby IQ is off the charts. The playmaker has pulled strings time and time again at all levels of the game. The Leinsterman will be licking his lips at the prospect of utilizing a smaller back three and facing an opposite number relatively inexperienced at 10 in the Test arena. When Sexton plays well, Ireland win; it’s a simple equation. Expect the veteran to dictate play by moving the Springbok pack around the pitch, kicking well and showing off his outrageous vision.

Meanwhile, Willemse has fully blossomed in 2022 as a Test player, underscoring his versatility with caps at 10, 12 and 15 for the Springboks. The Stormer is an athlete; powerful, elusive and engaged in every phase of the game. He showed his potential as a fly-half when he orchestrated a 15-point second-half comeback against Wales earlier this year as a playmaker. However, facing Sexton will be his biggest challenge with 10 on his back, of which he certainly has the talent to win but needs to be at his best.

The only negative about Willemse is that his goal kicking is average. Somehow, the 24-year-old will have to find his boots, as every point counts in a test like this.


Truly one of the hardest games to call, as both sides have the ingredients to topple the other. The battle up front, the tactical kicking/flying battle and goal kicking are the main deciding factors in who walks away with the victory. That benefits the hosts, who will feel they can play their game in front of their fans – Ireland with three in this year’s test match.

Previous results

2017: Ireland won 38-3 in Dublin
2016: South Africa won 19-13 in Gqerberha
2016: South Africa won 32-26 in Johannesburg
2016: Ireland won 26-20 in Cape Town
2014: Ireland won 29-15 in Dublin
2012: South Africa won 16-12 in Dublin
2010: South Africa won 23-21 in Dublin
2009: Ireland won 15-10 in Dublin

The law

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Conor Murray, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan , 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter
Compensations: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jimmy O’Brien

South Africa: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Compensations: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Deon Fourie, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Faf de Klerk, 23 Willie le Roux

Date: Saturday, November 5
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 17:30 GMT
Judge: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France), Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)

READ MORE: Five of the worst games seen in rugby before Ireland v South Africa

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