One member of the South African World Cup squad has followed Ireland's fortunes closer than most this millennium.

Jonty Rhodes, the fielding coach with the world ranked No 1 one-day team was Ireland's sponsored professional in 1999 and as the SA squad prepared to do battle with Ireland in today's World Cup Super Eight clash in Guyana, he recalled his time in Dublin and Belfast.

'I had an amazing trip to Ireland. It was only three-four weeks and, at that stage, I didn't know what to expect from Irish cricket. But in the last two or three weeks at the World Cup, it's been awesome to see the growth of individual players and a tremendous team spirit It's very exciting.

While they may not have world beaters in their team they are certainly performing well as a team unit and that is the key to one day cricket. If you do the basics well and all pull together any result is possible and the Irish guys have seen that. It's really important to see Irish cricket coming as far as it has,' enthused Rhodes.

Although only Kyle McCallan and Peter Gillespie are still around from his time with the Ireland squad, Rhodes is delighted to see them still involved.

'It's good to see that because you need the experienced players to keep the game going. That's the reason I'm still involved in South Africa cricket - I've got a part to play. A lot of people walk away so while I don't feel I owe anything to the game I certainly want to try to give back as much as possible because I love doing it,' he added.

And, unlike some other seasoned observers of the sport, he has no qualms about Ireland being in the Super Eight.

It's the format of the tournament. We had the same thing in South Africa when we didn't even reach the second round last time. We've had the good and the bad. But here you had to win two of your pool games to get through, well Ireland won one and tied one, and teams can't sit and complain about it. Hats off to the Irish guys for getting through.'

At the warm-up game between the teams in Trinidad Rhodes and some of the other South Africans had a long chat with the Ireland players.

'They played great cricket and we said to them you have to back yourselves to cause a few upsets. We saw how Pakistan were vulnerable under pressure and the (Ireland) guys said that day in the changing room they really believed they could go out and surprise some of the teams in the tournament.

'Adi (Birrell, the National Coach) had asked me the previous night to watch their fielding during the match. Well, they fielded superbly. There's nothing I could really tell them apart from their throwing techniques but the diving around in the field was very impressive. I'm chuffed with Ireland's performance,' added Rhodes, still considered one of the best ever fielders.

Rhodes believes the scare which Ireland gave to the Proteas in Port of Spain was 'a good lesson for us.'

He added: 'We went on to lose our other warm-up game against Pakistan but I think we were still in holiday mode then. The lads have worked hard on their basics since, and now I think we are playing good cricket.

'We had some really interesting overs against Australia and against Sri Lanka last week it got pretty tight, but the guys dominated 90 overs and by the end of the Super Eight we should be somewhere near our peak.

'We're now at the next part of our plan. We came to Guyana looking to get six points. We got two against Sri Lanka and now Ireland and Bangladesh are next and we are going to take one game at a time.'