Rugby Union

Ian Madigan: Great physical performance but we must be more disciplined if we want to beat South Africa

Johnny Sexton enjoyed a memorable evening in Nantes (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Ian Madigan

Last weekend was an excellent performance. We knew how physical the Tongans were and they didn’t disappoint, but I think we more than matched their physicality, and Ireland had the smarts they didn’t have.

In the first 20 minutes, the score was 10-6 and you knew Ireland were very much in a match, but what was impressive for me was how they executed their gameplan again.

James Lowe got a slightly lucky penalty with the player coming in to block him down, and from that, they kicked into touch, got another penalty and scored a try from that.

They then scored another try quickly and it went from being a physical battle at 10-6 to 24-6 and the game took on a whole different complexion.

What was particularly satisfying for me from Ireland, were the planned moves they executed throughout the game.

For example, a goal-line drop-out gives the attacking team a good opportunity, but it takes a lot of practice to manufacture the play, and then Gary Ringrose breaks through and Johnny Sexton goes and scores.

A huge amount of preparation goes into creating those plays and practising them in training.

It’s extremely fulfilling when you get the reward from it and score a try on the big stage.

The team will take a lot of confidence from those types of plays and it strikes fear into the opposition and they’re going to be thinking, ‘What can Ireland muster from a goal-line drop-out and what weapons do they have?’


Johnny Sexton became Ireland's record point scorer against Tonga (Andrew Matthews/PA)


A special mention goes to Johnny Sexton, who is at the centre of everything for this Irish team, with the pre-planned move that he scored on to break the all-time Irish points record, I’m sure he had a big part in drawing that up and telling players how he wants it executed.

The two things that are impressing me about Johnny in this World Cup are how fit he is, and the other, which I think the supporters can see too, just how much he is enjoying it.

He’s playing with a smile on his face and you can see the love that his team has for him too, when he broke the record everyone came in and congratulated him and that shows the respect the team has for him and how happy they were for him to break the record.

Another key player for Ireland in this World Cup has been Bundi Aki, who is in the form of his life and as strong as he has ever been.


Ireland centre Bundee Aki has impressed in his last two games at this World Cup (Adam Davy/PA)


He runs brilliant lines and when you’re a player who is full of confidence, like Aki is, you can be patient, cut harsher angles and you find that you assess play better.

In attack, Bundi is a dangerous player to have running at the opposition. He is well balanced and cuts really hard lines. What I have been really impressed with him is his ability to receive the ball when he is going close to top speed.

He’s a big strong guy and when he attacks inside shoulders of the defenders at high speeds he’s really difficult to stop. He is going to be crucial for us in beating South Africa.

Going forward in this tournament, we’re in as good a position as we could have hoped for going into the third game of the group, there’s no escaping the fact that this is going to be the toughest game in our group.


South Africa won the 2019 World Cup in Japan (David Davies/PA)


South Africa are a side that is in great form, reigning World Cup champions and are the best in the world at specific aspects of the game.

In my opinion South Africa are the best team in the world at competing in the air. Both their ability to win back their own kicks aswell as being particularly good at receiving kicks.

We all know kicking has become a huge part of the game and Saturday nights game will be no different.

Alongside having to compete and come out on top of the aerial battle Ireland are going to have to stop the South African maul.

They are the two best mauling teams in the competition and this facet of the game is going to be huge in deciding who comes out on top.

This is tied in to how disciplined Ireland will have to be. If they give away 10+ penalties in the game we will see how the South Africans can punish them with the maul.

We will have to be really disciplined at ruck time because if we do infringe and the South Africans kick to touch we are going to be in for 3-5 minutes of sustained pressure where they don’t make many mistakes.

So how are Ireland going to win on Saturday?!

As I discussed the kick battle and aerial contest as well as stopping the South African maul will be vital to winning, from an attacking perspective, I’d expect Jameson Gibson Park to come back into the team.

Two effective ways of slowing the really aggressive South African line-speed are to get our scrum half running from the base of rucks.

This will put a seed of doubt into the South African defenders and force them to sit on their heels.

We saw how Scotland came unstuck trying to play their wide-wide game. I think if Ireland utilise the short side well it will frustrate South Africa and they won’t be able to get the linespeed they crave.

It is going to be ferocious but I’m confident we can come out on top…just!



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