THE Irish are at a crossroads.
Straight ahead, the sign says, is a rocky road to a historic first series win in SA, and their first in the southern hemisphere since their tour to Australia in 1979, with the Springboks standing in their way.
To the left is a lonely path home, carrying what would feel like a consolation prize of having won their first match in SA, 26-20 at Newlands two weeks ago.
They have been the better side for a game-and-a-half so far this series and it would be a crushing blow if they exit stage left.
As such, the significance of Saturday’s series-deciding Test against the Boks at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is certainly not lost on their players.
“It’s important to get some perspective back and remember that we still have a great opportunity to create a bit of history,” said Irish winger Andrew Trimble.
“We are probably more aware now of how tough it’s going to be to achieve that than we have been prior to this week. The Springboks are physical, fast and whenever they click, they are very difficult to stop — three phases in a row make it difficult for you to turn possession over,” he said.
Lock Devin Toner, the tallest man in this series at 2.1m, said the stakes riding on this game were at the back of the players’ minds, but would not distract from the way they intended to play.
“The history attached to this game — the chance to be the first Irish side to win a series in SA — is quite important to us,” said Toner. “Going into that first game, it was important to win because we had never won here before.
“That was playing on our minds a bit and once we got that win, we wanted to push on and make a bit more history.”
Ireland are still smarting from the second-half demolition job affected by substitutes Ruan Combrinck and Warren Whiteley, plus Pieter-Steph du Toit and Damian de Allende’s physical injections.
“We are not yet over the defeat to the Springboks in Johannesburg,” Toner said.
“We are still going through the footage and hurting over it and we are in recovery mode because there are a lot of sore bodies.
“But we have built our way into the week’s preparation and will try to peak on Saturday,” he said.
“It will come down to the physicality again and getting the shoulder in, in contact. That’s what happens when you let teams get over the gain line.”