Andy Farrell believes the rest of the world expects Ireland to lose to South Africa and insists the mouthwatering Paris showdown is not a “do-or-die” fixture.
Test rugby’s top-ranked nation face a stern examination of their World Cup credentials as they prepare to put their 15-match winning run on the line against the formidable reigning champions in Pool B’s headline clash.
The physical Springboks have made a statement of intent by naming an imposing seven-one split of forwards and backs on the bench.
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Ireland head coach Farrell talked down the significance of that tactical decision and urged his players to focus on their own performance in their bid to defy the bookmakers and their doubters at Stade de France.
“It doesn’t really bother me at all,” the Englishman said of South Africa’s so-called ‘Bomb Squad’. “It’s just about us.
“We have to be good, we have to play really well to beat the world champions.
“And rightly so because they’re in good form and, barring us and our team, our management and the Irish people all over the world, I think everyone else thinks that they’re the favourites and they’re going to win this game.
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“I can see why because of the form that they’ve showed in the last couple of games but we don’t think like that. We’re ready for a tough battle, and it will take it’s own course, I’m sure.
“It’s not a must-win. It’s not a do-or-die type of game, but it’s pretty important to both teams, let’s put it that way.”
Ireland have the chance to qualify for the quarter-finals with a game to spare following crushing bonus-point victories over Romania and Tonga.
Farrell’s men have won 27 of their last 29 Test matches, including beating the Springboks 19-16 in Dublin last autumn.
Yet one of the two defeats during the remarkable run of form came in Paris – a 30-24 loss to France in last year’s Six Nations.
“Our journey’s had all sorts, and it prepares you for games like this,” continued Farrell. “I suppose we’ll learn a bit more after this one as well.
“There will be over 30,000 Irish supporters there in a stadium we know well, and we want to get back there and get back to winning ways there.
“It’s a challenge that we’re ready for, looking forward to, and it’s coming soon.”
Scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park replaces Conor Murray in the only change to Ireland’s starting XV, while first-choice hooker Dan Sheehan is in line for his World Cup debut after being named on the bench following a foot injury.
Captain Johnny Sexton wants to reward the travelling fans with another statement win after thousands of green jerseys flooded Bordeaux and Nantes on the previous two weekends.
“I don’t think I’ve played a game here where we’ll have the majority of the support,” said the 38-year-old, who will partner the returning Gibson-Park.
“The support we get for World Cups in particular, it’s incredible.
“Last week in the stadium there was just green everywhere, the week before the same, and I’m sure it will be the same again.
“So it’s hats off to the people that put their hand in their pocket and come over.
“It means a lot to us, and we hope we give them something to cheer about.
“We’re going to have to be in top form to get a result.”