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Rupert Wyman 27th Nov 2009 - 12:31

Smit back at hooker and Ireland have some Sex appeal

South Africa's captain John Smit starts in his best position of hooker against Ireland as the Springboks seek to avoid a third straight loss in the Emerald Isle.

The switch of position from prop happened during last week's win in Italy and was partly responsible for a big improvement in the world champions' play. Smit had some shortcomings at prop which led to the scrum being demolished but his starting return to the number two jersey will be crucial if South Africa are to come away from Croke Park with the win.

Ireland possess a good line out with Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan and Smit will have to be at his accurate best to find the reunited second row duo of Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield.

South Africa have looked tired during their European tour and as a result lost to France, laboured to their win against Italy while their midweek side were beaten by both Leicester and Saracens. It is not surprising though after a long season in which they have defeated the British & Irish Lions and then won the Tri Nations, not forgetting the majority of their players taking part in both the gruelling Super 14 and the Currie Cup as well.

The last thing the weary Springboks would have wanted is another match especially one in which a new young hope, Jonathan Sexton, has been given the nod to start in. Following his impressive performance on his debut last week against Fiji, Declan Kidney has opted to retain the Leinster fly-half in the starting XV rather than recall the experienced Ronan O'Gara.

It is the first time in five years that O'Gara has been dropped although you can't blame Kidney for the move as even his counterpart Peter de Villiers has admitted he would have done the same.

Sexton's youthful exuberance and better running game could cause trouble for the Springboks, let alone his impressive kicking that he displayed against Fiji when he scored 16 points - kicking seven goals out of seven attempts.

The big question though is has he got the temperament to cope with facing the Springboks?

If he performs as well as he did last week then one would have thought that Ireland will look good value at 6/5 to make it three home wins in a row against South Africa. However, if he struggles then the Springboks should be able to justify their status as 4/6 favourites.

Following their great season South Africa would have been hoping for a triumphant European tour to conclude their season but so far it has not been the case. This though could be a decisive factor as they look to end their campaign on a high and restore their reputation as the world's best side.

Two weeks ago Ireland escaped with a draw against Australia at Croke Park and the Springboks on their day are a much better side than the Wallabies therefore one has to fancy the chances of an away success, despite their tiredness.

Nevertheless I still expect it to be a close encounter but South Africa to win by 1-5 points at 4/1 looks a good shout.

The match though may not turn out to be the prettiest to watch with South Africa's kicking tactics but it pits the Tri Nations champions against their Six Nations counterparts as both sides look to end their autumn campaigns in style.

 

 
 
 

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