Paris, Dublin, Johannesburg (20/9 – 15)
The 2023 Rugby World Cup will contest what will arguably be the grandest game in the Pool Stage this weekend. On Saturday night, 23 September 2023, South Africa and Ireland go head-to-head in Pool B, at Stade de France, Paris: the world number two against world number one. All will witness a reigning world champion versus a team with a winning streak extending from July 2022.
Both teams dive in with two wins from their opening games. The Springboks won 18-3 against Scotland – and then obliterated Romania 76-0. Meanwhile, Ireland have been barely tested, as they got an 82-8 win over Romania and 59-16 over Tonga. This will in fact be the first time that Ireland and South Africa have met at a World Cup.
But in the last meeting between them on 5 November 2022, Ireland won 19-16. Johnny Sexton scored 9 of Ireland’s 19 points in that game. Sexton is still Ireland’s main man in the 2023 Rugby World Cup, having scored 40 of Ireland’s 141 points with 3 tries, 11 conversions, and 1 penalty.
In his last performance against Tonga, Sexton became Ireland’s all-time top points scorer with 1090. “I’m very proud to do it, but tonight it was more important getting the win and moving on to what is such a massive game (against South Africa) this coming week,” he said.
With Sexton and company on fire, Ireland have already scored 141 points, the top number so far in this year’s World Cup.
South Africa doesn’t have a “Johnny Sexton” in their ranks, at least in the first two matches. Makazole Mapimpi, Cobus Reinach, and Damian Willemse share scoring responsibility, with 15 points each. The Springboks are basically unpredictable.
Against Romania, South Africa made 14 player changes to a team that ran on for an opening 18-3 win against Scotland. That is naturally a prime concern for Ireland. “They are the type of guys who come up with new plans and tricky little things in new games,” said Ireland’s scrum-half Connor Murray. “So you have to be prepared for everything.”
The Springboks only conceded 3 points from two games, against Scotland and Romania. In fact, South Africa only conceded two tries in their last eight games at the tournament. Their current run includes shutouts against Namibia, Italy, Japan, England, Scotland, and Romania.
Their points aggregate across those eight games marked 343 scored and 47 conceded. “This team has always prided itself on defence, so I am extremely happy,” The Springboks’ head coach Jacques Nienaber said in the wake of the 76-0 victory over Romania.
The winner of this massive match will be in the driver’s seat of Pool B, with a possible matchup against New Zealand in the next round. The loser will likely claim second place in Pool B and potentially face France in the first round of the knockout stages. “It will be a big game, in terms of who finishes one and two in the pool, but there are still games to play after this match,” said Nienaber. “I don’t want to get too far ahead. If it’s Italy, if it’s France or New Zealand, it’s going to be a tough quarterfinal, it doesn’t matter who we play.”