IRELAND’S hopes of humbling South Africa were picked apart in a one-sided second half of tonight's autumn series opener at Lansdowne Road
The defeat is Ireland’s sixth in a row – their worst ever run in the professional era, and a result which increases the pressure on coach Declan Kidney.
“It’s been a difficult fixture list but we’ve a lot of new players there, and we’re in the process of building a squad,” he said afterwards.
“We’re not too happy at the way we finished after a strong first half,” he said afterwards, admitting his yellow card was a major turning point as South Africa scored 10 points while he was off the pitch.
The game started with Richardt Strauss, who last month qualified for the injury-hit Irish on residency grounds, making his debut at hooker opposite cousin Adriaan, while Simon Zebo won his second cap at full-back.
Just 10 minutes into the game and South Africa had conceded four cheap penalties, two of which were sent between the uprights by Jonathan Sexton.
Ireland were very much the underdogs but it was an encouraging start and they were having few problems dealing with the Springboks' route one approach.
Earls knocked on just as he was sent through a gap by Sexton and the fly-half then took time to climb to his feet after halting a bulldozing run by JP Pietersen.
Pat Lambie and Sexton exchanged penalties but Ireland were still playing most of the rugby, showing invention as they worked their way downfield.
South Africa's composure crumbled as first Willem Alberts kneed Sexton in the ribs and then Pietersen was sent to the sin bin for using the shoulder while tackling Henry early.
Another three points from Sexton punished the Springboks' indiscipline as Ireland opened a 12-3 lead they fully deserved.
The home side's superiority in broken play and out wide was evident, but they also looked happy to mix it with the bigger South African pack.
Sexton missed his first penalty of the evening and the half finished with Springbok scrum-half Ruan Pienaar falling short from long range.
McCarthy cut Eben Etzebeth in half with a bone-jarring hit just moments after Cian Healy had wobbled off to be assessed by a specialist in the concussion bin.
But South Africa were finally coming alive and almost crossed through hooker Adriaan Strauss at a line-out drive in a passage of play that saw Heaslip sin-binned for standing offside.
Scenting blood, the Springboks went for the jugular and were rewarded when Ruan Pienaar darted over from close range with Lambie converting.
The landscape of the match now look radically different with rejuvenated South Africa just two points behind.
Captain Jean de Villiers bulldozed through D'Arcy and Earls as referee Wayne Barnes offered Lambie another shot at goal which he took.
Ireland responded with a fiery passage of play that ended when Healy, who had passed his concussion test, was penalised for failing to release the ball.
Sexton and Lambie both fell short with a long-range kicks in a pressure-cooker final quarter of the match.
South Africa were now gaining a foothold at the scrum, winning two penalties in quick succession, the second of which Lambie steered between the uprights.
Ireland desperately chased the late score that would nudge them back into the lead, but were strangled out of the game by the canny Springboks.