Threat: Ireland flyhalf Jonny Sexton. Picture: REUTERS
Threat: Ireland flyhalf Jonny Sexton. Picture: REUTERS

Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has singled out Ireland flyhalf Jonny Sexton and scrumhalf Conor Murray as the major threats when the sides meet at Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

The Springboks arrived in Dublin on Sunday for the first leg of a tour that includes Tests against France in Paris, Italy in Padua and Wales in Cardiff.

Ireland’s backline pivots were also the starting pair for the British and Irish Lions against the All Blacks in June. They were influential figures in the series that was drawn 1-1.

Murray’s ability to land pinpoint up-and-unders on opposing defenders is a key element of the Irish game, while Sexton has kicking accuracy from the tee and from hand, which also causes major problems.

"Ireland have a great weapon in their halfback pair as both are prolific kickers, and as a combination, they are world-class," Coetzee said.

Conor Murray. Picture: REUTERS
Conor Murray. Picture: REUTERS

"It will be important to win the many small battles and our focus will be to improve execution in all departments.

"They are really a top-class side with an experienced coaching team and quality players. There is no doubt we have to be at our best on Saturday.

"Our ability to adapt to the conditions, and how we want to play, will be tested. I know that up here [in the northern hemisphere] there will be many contests, and the aerial bombardment will be one."

The coach also confirmed that captain Eben Etzebeth had passed a fitness test on a twisted ankle and would be available for selection this weekend.

There had been some doubt about Etzebeth’s chances of playing the first match on tour after he sustained the injury at a training camp in Stellenbosch.

The Boks have not won a match since beating Argentina in Salta in August. Since then they have drawn twice with Australia and lost twice to the All Blacks. They desperately need a win.

But Coetzee said the tour was not only about good results but also about improvement. He pointed out the Boks’ 25-24 losing effort against New Zealand at Newlands as the type of performance they wanted to emulate.

"Our mind-set is that it’s not the end-of-year tour — this tour is about making sure we improve as a group and keep on growing as a team, while also staying on course with our 2019 plan," Coetzee said.

"This is an important tour for us and our standard of play has to be at the level of our last match against New Zealand in Cape Town."

Meanwhile, SA Rugby has confirmed that Springbok assistant coach Johann van Graan will join Munster from November 19 to take up his new position as head coach. Van Graan, who has been with the Boks since 2012, will therefore still be involved in the Tests against Ireland and France.

Coetzee lauded Van Graan’s contribution to the Springboks.

"Johann has made a massive contribution to the Springboks over the last few years. Besides his excellent technical and coaching abilities, he is also a very good person.

"He will be a big loss for the Springboks and is a huge gain for Munster. He has been an outstanding assistant coach for us and his knowledge of the game is second to none.

"Johann is an unbelievably hard worker and is technically very astute," he said.

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