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SA-born hooker Rob Herring a thread linking Ireland, Springboks


Saturday’s potential Pool B decider at the Stade de France, has many subplots to it — from styles of play to a wide range of Irish/South African connections — making it even more intriguing.

Bok coach Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus spent two years coaching Munster and became popular in the local community. Nienaber is returning to Ireland to join Leinster after the World Cup.

Erasmus has been linked to the performance director role at the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), with David Nucifora vacating the post. It’s a story that Erasmus refuted, as he still has two years on his contract with the South African Rugby Union to run.

Garry Ringrose, Rob Herring

Garry Ringrose of Ireland is tackled by Kurt-Lee Arendse, Cheslin Kolbe and Steven Kitshoff of South Africa during the 2022 Castle Lager Outgoing Tour match at Aviva Stadium on 5 November, 2022 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile/Gallo Images)

“No, no, no, I won’t be (taking up the position),” Erasmus said. “There’s no talks. There’s no truth in that. I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but I definitely haven’t chatted to them (IRFU). I’m definitely not following Jacques.” This one is likely to rumble on.

Bok lock Jean Kleyn, also of Munster, played four Tests for Ireland and was part of their RWC 2019 squad. Fellow Bok second rower RG Snyman plays for Munster while Ireland attack coach Mike Catt was raised in Gqeberha before making his name playing for England and Bath.

Rob Herring’s story is not that unusual in the modern game. The former South African College School (Sacs) boy decided to further his career abroad after school and has become an important cog in an impressive Irish wheel.

The 33-year-old has twice played against the Springboks for Ireland — in 2017 and again last year. The 2017 clash, won 38-3 by Ireland, signalled the end of coach Allister Coetzee’s tenure and ushered in the Erasmus/Nienaber era.

Rob Herring

Ireland hooker Rob Herring is tackled during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match against Tonga at Stade de la Beaujoire on 16 September, 2023 in Nantes, France. (Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images)

His mother and two of his three sisters have travelled from Cape Town to Paris for the big showdown and will fully be behind their man.

“They’re (his family) all supporting Ireland,” Herring told the PA news agency.

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“All of my friends that are coming over and my family, they’re all in Irish jerseys so there will be no divided support. They will be fully behind us.

“It will be great. I’ve played against them (the Boks) a few times now and it’s always a good battle.

“I just want to be a part of the squad, contribute any way I can. It will be a good atmosphere, we’ll have our Irish fans there in full force.

“Every week we think we need to step things up and it’s going to be like that going into the long run of the competition. We’ll keep getting better and it will be another big challenge for us.”

Big physical challenge

Both Ireland and the Boks possess impressive set pieces while the Irish have developed a varied and slick attacking game. But few sides defend like the Boks, who come off the line fast and hard to shut down space. It’s something Ireland have been studying closely.

“South Africa have always been very aggressive in their defence and it’s worked very, very well for them,” Catt said. “It definitely puts your skillset under pressure and it’s something we’ve been working on over the past couple of years.

“A lot more teams are becoming a lot tighter and coming with a lot more line speed. There’s still space around, you’ve just got to find it in different ways.”

Catt also said that they had taken notice of the Boks’ improved attack with Manie Libbok at flyhalf. It’s another aspect of the world champions’ game they have to counter.

Mike Catt

Ireland attack coach Mike Catt is expecting a tough challenge against the Boks but believes his team will be able to find space. (Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images)

“They’re playing a great brand of rugby at the moment. There’s a real good mix of their physicality and their directness to their ability to move the ball,” Catt said.

“Having Manie Libbok at 10, Damian Willemse at 15 and Willie le Roux — they’re definitely putting the ball through the hands a little bit more and they’re causing big problems for a lot of teams. We’re well aware of it, but still you’ve got to try and stop it.

“You’re playing against one of the best teams in the world. This is what World Cups are built on.”

Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw will be on the front line, attempting to breach the Boks’ rush defence and he is under no illusions about the size of the task coming his way.

“Their power game is massive up front and then they have some exciting backs, new guys who are lighting it up on the edges,” Henshaw said.

“But what we learned in November (playing South Africa when Ireland won 19-16 in Dublin) was to expect anything from their defence. They come hard off the line and they leave two or three players out on the edge and close you off from the inside.”

“We have to be accurate and we have to have balls to go for it and play.” DM

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