South African rugby pundit Craig Ray was on Wednesday’s OTB AM and spoke about Ireland’s and the Springbok’s chances at the World Cup.
Under their last coach Allister Coetzee, the Springboks lost to Italy for the first time and suffered their biggest ever defeat, a 57-0 drubbing by the All Blacks.
However, South Africa have improved dramatically since former Munster coach Rassie Erasmus took the reins in early 2018, much to Ray’s relief.
“We are pretty confident in South Africa. I guess the Springboks have a very good World Cup track record even in mediocre years.
You think of 2015 on the back of three defeats in the Rugby Championship and there was still optimism. Notwithstanding the Japan result, they made it through to the semi-final anyway.
Right now there’s still a lot of concern over facing someone like Ireland in the quarter-final… but there’s a lot more confidence that the Boks could win it compared to 12 months ago,” Ray commented.
Are Ireland still feared internationally?
Ireland’s form hasn’t been as impressive as South Africa’s as of late, with losses to England and Wales in the Six Nations a real concern for Joe Schmidt’s side.
Ray was confident Ireland would steady the ship and picked out two of Ireland’s talismans as essential to their World Cup hopes.
“You guys are obviously being a little too pessimistic I think. Joe Schmidt is obviously a very smart coach.
“With Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray Ireland are going to be a tough side to beat. I would put them right up there with New Zealand,” Ray said.
New Zealand have also suffered a dip in form this year, although they were much improved in their win over the Wallabies at Eden Park, and Ray still had them down as favourites.
South Africa are currently unbeaten in their four games so far this year but coming up against the world champions in the pool stages is still a major worry.
“They go into the World Cup in great shape but you’re only as good as your last game.
"If it comes unstuck against the All Blacks in Yokohama the old doubts will creep in,” Ray said.
The Rugby World Cup kicks off in Japan on September 20th, with precious little time left for teams to iron out any remaining kinks.