Ireland will know just where they stand ahead of the World Cup after South Africa's visit to Dublin in November, according to Rúaidhrí O'Connor and Fiona Hayes.
The world champion Springboks will play world number one Ireland in Dublin on Saturday, November 5th. This will be the first of three matches in the Autumn test window that kick-starts Ireland's final World Cup preparations a year out from the tournament.
Andy Farrell named his squad for the matches against South Africa, Fiji and Australia on Wednesday, as well as an extended group that will form part of the Ireland 'A' side that will tackle an All Blacks XV on November 4th.
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Irish Independent's Rúaidhrí O'Connor and Grand Slam winner Fiona Hayes believe that a strong performance by Ireland could show just where Andy Farrell's side are a year out from the World Cup.
Speaking on Wednesday Night Rugby, O'Connor and Hayes looked ahead to the first test in November, against a World Champion side that Ireland have not faced since 2017, when the hosts humiliated South Africa 38-3 in the Aviva.
"They've beaten New Zealand three times in the past 18 months or so," O'Connor said. "You always looked at it going, 'this team is built to beat New Zealand'.
"You wonder about the power sides. They haven't beaten France in this cycle. They had struggles against England when England were stronger at the start of the cycle, and they haven't played South Africa.
"When they come up against the power of that South African pack, married with that bomb squad coming on, [Ireland] might struggle. We want to see that, we want to see the full Irish side play against this South Africa team."
Ireland can experiment
Ireland are currently the highest ranked test side in the world, following their series victory in New Zealand. However, O'Connor feels Farrell should prioritise performances and experimentation over preserving top spot on the rankings table.
"There should be some room for experimentation in these games," O'Connor said. "Ireland are the number one side in the world. They may lose their ranking, but really that's on no major consequence.
"I don't see this as being a confidence-damaging defeat unless they get pinned in the corners and battered in the scrums. He shouldn't be pressing Hugo Keenan into action with zero minutes for what is essentially a challenge match.
"It's one that Ireland want to win and want to perform in, but there's no guarantee that Keenan will be there in a year when they play South Africa.
"So, Lowry is fit, he's playing well, or Stockdale... or Jimmy O'Brien. This is the time to find out about these players as well."
While Hayes agrees that there should be room for experimentation in November, she wants to see a full-strength Ireland tackle the Springboks in the first test.
"I think he's going to throw out his strongest squad possible for that first game," Hayes said. "Maybe [against] Fiji and Australia he might mix up a few things.
"I feel that South African game will be huge. I don't think people like to discuss being number one in this country, anywhere near a World Cup.
"It's a chance on home soil to go out and really put it up to that South African pack. You wouldn't want to see Ireland be dominated either at set piece or around the breakdown or that carry area either."
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