Ronan O’Gara and Brian O’Driscoll were on OTB’s Friday Night Rugby and weighed up Ireland’s two likely World Cup quarter-final opponents - South Africa and New Zealand.
The two sides have been neck-in-neck over the last year with one win each and a draw from their last three matches.
The Springboks have improved massively in a short space of time and are a far cry from the side that was humiliated 57-0 by the All Blacks less than two years ago.
“I expected [South Africa] to be a lot better but I didn’t expect them to make up the vast amount of strides they have made. Their game seems very suited to cup rugby.
“Faf [De Klerk] playing at nine, I think he has an excellent kicking game but he also has a good attack threat. They’re a far more balanced team but also the fact they have an awful lot more strength in depth,” O’Gara explained.
The Springboks are of course coached by Munster’s former head coach Rassie Erasmus but they also have Munster’s former defence coach Jacques Nienaber in their backroom team.
“I think Nienaber is meant to be a really, really good coach. It’s hard to play against the kind of defence structure he has set up. It seems to me it’s very much a push up at all costs.
“That can get exposed and you need to have very good skills but there’ll be a hard surface and probably dry ball in Japan and that will probably favour the skills of Australia and New Zealand," O'Gara said.
Will the All Blacks come good for the World Cup?
While O’Driscoll acknowledged the major strides made by South Africa under Erasmus’ tutelage he still fancied the All Blacks to come out on top in the pool stages.
“I think New Zealand will get it together and they’re not panickers. As ROG said, they’ve earned the right to be calm in situations of stress because of what they’ve done in the last eight years.
“So I think they’ll get it back together and in a big game like that it’ll be brutal but I just think they’ll get the job done,” O’Driscoll commented.
While the former Ireland captain expects the world champions to improve on the form that saw them finish third in the Rugby Championship, he did see some glaring weaknesses.
“I’d worry for what New Zealand are doing in the centre at the moment. I’m not unimpressed with Lienert-Brown but he hasn’t done anything magnificent at international level.
“Crotty’s... a very solid player and doesn’t make a lot of errors but I don’t know where their real cleverness and X Factor is coming from,” O’Driscoll said.
New Zealand and South Africa are both in action this weekend with the All Blacks looking to get revenge on Australia after a 47-26 hammering while the Springboks will look to repeat last week’s comfortable win over Argentina.
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