South Africa’s RG Snyman is tackled by Caelen Doris of Ireland in their World Cup game in Paris on Sept. 23. [Inpho/Dave Winter]

Bring on July, says Farrell

Ireland's rugby head coach Andy Farrell says he is relishing a shot at the world’s best in July when his charges play South Africa in two Tests in Pretoria and Durban.  The Irish will pursue perfection after continuing their northern hemisphere domination with another Six Nations title. Farrell and his team will now turn their attention to a two-match summer tour. Many pundits feel Farrell’s in-form side are already Test rugby’s leading nation, an opinion understandably disputed in the Springbok camp following their back-to-back World Cup successes. While Ireland have won their last three clashes with the Webb Ellis Cup holders, they have only once achieved that feat on South African soil, and that was a 26-20 Cape Town win when Joe Schmidt was coach in 2016.

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Ireland's most recent win was, of course, in the World Cup group game at Stade de France, Saint-Denis, on Sept. 23 last. The 13-8 victory against the group's top-seeded 'Boks was the high-water mark of the tournament for the Irish, although their other three wins stacked up most of the impressive points tally of 190. They then lost the quarterfinal game against New Zealand's All Blacks 28-24. Meanwhile the South Africans had a series of three one-point victories, ending with a 12-11 game against New Zealand in the final.

Farrell said: ‘‘It doesn’t get any more difficult, does it, or any more exciting than that. All you want is an opportunity to put yourself out there against the best and South Africa are 100 per cent the best. Being able to go out there and test ourselves over there will be great for our development going forward.’’

Ireland has now won 33 of their last 37 Tests stretching back to 2021 after retaining the Six Nations Championship with a win over Scotland at the Aviva. A defeat by France in 2022, two losses to New Zealand, including that quarter-final, and that recent shock defeat to England at Twickenham, are the only blemishes on what is an impressive record. The first Test is at the Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria on July 6 and the second Test will be played seven days at Hollywoodbets Kings Park, Durban. It will mark the Springboks’ return to action for the first time since their  World Cup final win in Paris last October.