Tadhg Beirne undaunted by the prospect of taking on the world’s best (2024)

Tadhg Beirne pads through the classroom at St Peter’s College in his socks, a cavernous room set up with hundreds of desks that will be filled next week with young people sitting state exams.

Fresh from the training pitch, he’s left his boots at the door. He is oversized for the small chair on which he’s perched. Beirne has played more minutes than any other player in the Ireland squad but if there is any weariness, physically or mentally, there is no trace. There is a care to his answers.

On Saturday Ireland face South Africa at Loftus Versfeld, the two-time world champions looking for a statement win in front of their adoring public, and in the process halting a sequence of three successive defeats to Ireland.

It’s been a ridiculously long season – 13 months and counting. But, as Beirne points out, the Irish jersey galvanises those that wear it.

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“I think at moments during the season I definitely felt it, I’ve had a few weekends off after the semi-final. So, you come into a new environment, and it freshens you up for sure,” said Beirne.

“We’re well looked after. I’m definitely feeling good. What’s brilliant about this squad is that we’re playing with the best of the best with Ireland, we’re able to flick that switch and we’re well used to the system here under Faz [Andy Farrell]. Everyone gets on the same page very quickly, hopefully that will be evident on Saturday.”

There are tropes to playing the Springboks based on their huge physicality but it’s impossible to avoid because Rassie Erasmus’s side make it fundamental to the way that they play the game and challenge the opposition.

“The most obvious one [area] is your physicality, they’ve got a really big pack in general,” says Beirne. “They do look to bully you; they go after a lot of rucks whether it’s poaching or trying to bully those rucks to get the ball back or even just make it scrappy. They want to make the game scrappy, get into an arm wrestle. Some teams don’t want that, they want to just play ball and run it around you.

Tadhg Beirne undaunted by the prospect of taking on the world’s best (5)

“South Africa are looking to hit it up, bully us up front and then try to get out wide of us. They’re very good at knock-out rugby and they’ve proven that in the last two World Cups, grinding out wins by one score. It’s a credit to them, they stick to their plan really well and they’re a well-drilled team in terms of what they’re trying to get out of the game.

“We can expect something different, they’ve new coaches going in there and even just from the game against Wales you could see they are trying to be a bit more expansive. They’re trying to play a bit more than they were a year ago for sure.”

South Africa caused Ireland problems at lineout time initially in the World Cup pool match. Beirne said that it wasn’t so much the calls but that the Springboks possess arguably the best defensive lineout in the game. Nor is he overly interested in Ireland’s three-match win streak.

“You can’t live in the past, each Test brings its new challenges, and you have to learn from the previous Test.

“Whether you’ve won or lost, there’s always something to learn and teams are going to try out different things because of pictures they’ve seen in the previous games. Once that whistle goes, it’s focusing on that one game.”

It’s not as if the Irish squad are immune or unaware of the past or that they stand on the threshold of yet another significant accomplishment. Ireland could, and to be honest, should have won the Test series against the Springboks in 2016, having won the opening match but contrived to lose an eminently winnable match in the third Test.

Beirne explained that it’s been a topic of discussion.

“We’ve touched on that for sure, this Irish team has been part of a lot of history over the last few years and we have said that if we can come away from here with two wins, we’d have made history by being the first team to win a series [here]. It’s definitely motivation for sure.”

Not long now to wait for a first crack at that goal.

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Tadhg Beirne undaunted by the prospect of taking on the world’s best (2024)

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