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South Africa vs. Ireland: ‘Irish confront toughest test as Springboks showdown finally arrives’

In fact, only 24 hours after learning that they would face South Africa in their third World Cup match, Ireland defeated Italy inside an empty Stadio Olimpico in the middle of a Covid-impacted 2021 Six Nations.

The fixtures were made available 938 days ago. That’s quite a build-up.

Ireland had accomplished a lot before this – defeating the All Blacks, rising to the top of the world rankings, winning a Grand Slam, you name it – but the Springboks were always, unavoidably, on the horizon.

South Africa even travelled to Dublin for a practice 10 months before the big game last year. Ireland won a tough match that evening, but now it’s time for the big event.

The FIFA World Cup. Paris. At the Stade de France, under the lights. The world’s top two teams. Yes, if France dropping 96 points on Namibia didn’t pique your interest, stick with us because this will. Rugby may be able to stir the soul.

Ireland and South Africa have met 27 times in a century-long rivalry, although they have never met in the World Cup. They might as well give us something appropriate for the occasion.

Because of the excitement surrounding this heavyweight clash, some observers have compared it to a championship fight.

Of course, it isn’t. As Ireland head coach Andy Farrell pointed out at his press conference on Thursday, it’s not even “do-or-die” territory for Ireland, who have won their opening two games and have Scotland coming to this site in a fortnight.

It is also not for South Africa. The Springboks flashed their might early in their title defense, defeating Scotland 18-3 and then thrashing a feeble Romanian side that had just recovered from a 12-try thrashing by the Irish.

While neither team’s World Cup ambitions will be dashed in front of 80,000 people on Saturday, the victor will undoubtedly benefit psychologically.

“This is kind of what we’ve been working towards for the last three years I’ve been here [with the Ireland team],” said wing Mack Hansen, who made his World Cup debut with a spectacular try in Ireland’s 59-16 triumph against Tonga last week in Nantes.

“We’re quite excited about it. It’s a tremendous jump up from our prior games, but it’s everything we’ve been working for all along.”


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