DUBLIN, Nov 27 – Six Nations Grand Slam champions Ireland take on world and Tri-Nations champions South Africa here on Saturday in what is essentially a mini World Cup final two years away from the real thing in New Zealand.However, if there needed to be any added spice to the fixture is that it will be the first time that the Springboks face a national side that includes several of the British and Irish Lions side that lost a bitterly fought series in the summer that South Africa won 2-1.
Irish defence coach Les Kiss was frank about what some of his players thoughts were on – namely settling scores after several dubious hits by Springboks on some of the Irish players during the series including Schalk Burger’s gouging of Luke Fitzgerald, the latter will be absent through injury but the former will be starting.
"I’m sure there will be some personal things going around in their heads," said Kiss earlier this week.
"They will want to make this a special day for themselves and for Ireland," he added.
South Africa coach Peter de Villiers said that his side would not be looking for blood come Saturday as they endeavour to end their tour on a real high having lost three matches of their four including two against English Premiership sides.
"Well, I think the bad blood was only with you guys (the Irish)," he said on Monday.
"There was no bad blood with us. We were generous hosts who as we do always and invited the opposing players to our dressing room for a beer or two so the guys could mingle. They never accepted the invitation," added de Villiers, whose side are aiming to end a run of two successive defeats in Dublin.
One Irish player who would dearly loved to have had a chance to get his own back on the Springboks or at least a chance of redemption is the 93-times capped fly-half Ronan O’Gara, who went from the man who won the Grand Slam for Ireland to the man who lost the Lions series by giving away a penalty in the dying minutes of the second Test.
However, his long-time coach at Munster and now Irish handler Declan Kidney has shown he is no prisoner to sentiment and left him on the bench and gone for the 24-year-old Jonathan Sexton, who has broken the run of O’Gara as he is the first person since David Humphreys in 2003 to play at fly-half against a major test nation.
"I know we have a world class fly-half in Ronan but we have to find things out about ourselves," said Kidney.
"It was a difficult call but that doesn’t really matter. My job is to pick the team and that’s what I have done."
One of the most intriguing battles will be in the second row clash between Lions captain Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan with Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield.
Matfield is one of four changes to the side that beat Italy 32-10 last Saturday while de Villiers has opted to restore captain John Smit to his previously-favoured hooker position from prop.
Smit refused to accept that the South Africans would be entitled to claim fatigue as a reason after a seemingly never ending season this year.
"I think fatigue comes in many different forms," he said. "But it’s silly to use that as an excuse."
Springbok fly-half Morne Steyn has been a revelation this year not least it was he who landed the 51 metres penalty that won the series against the Lions and scored all 31 points in the 31-19 victory over the All Blacks on August 1.
However, Steyn – who looked a wee bit off colour against Italy – admits defeat against Ireland would take some of the shine off their achievements this season.
"It’s been an awesome year," said the 25-year-old Steyn.
"After the great season that we’ve had we just want to end it on a high note.
"I think losing on Saturday (would) make us forget about the great year and we’d only think about the loss against Ireland. We have to go out on a high."