Saturday 25 February 2017

Schmidt's history boys target series win

South Africa 20 - Ireland 26

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Conor Murray stretches over to score Ireland’s second try during Saturday’s Test at Newlands Stadium, Cape Town. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Conor Murray stretches over to score Ireland’s second try during Saturday’s Test at Newlands Stadium, Cape Town. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Nestled beneath Table Mountain, the unashamedly old-fashioned Newlands is a unique Test-match venue on a circuit filled with gleaming corporate stadiums.

It will now have pride of place in Irish rugby lore as the venue for an unforgettable stand by Rory Best and his band of brothers who stayed strong in the face of the utmost adversity to make history.

CJ Stander is shown the red card by referee Mathieu Raynal. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
CJ Stander is shown the red card by referee Mathieu Raynal. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Never before had Ireland beaten the Springboks on home soil, but here they were a man down taking the game to the home side.

This is not a vintage South African team, but Ireland were already missing a slew of seasoned internationals before CJ Stander was sent to the stands for his clumsy challenge on Pat Lambie after 22 minutes.

When Robbie Henshaw joined him on the sideline for 10 minutes before half-time, the game looked to be up. Six years ago, Jamie Heaslip got himself sent off in New Zealand, Ronan O'Gara went to the sin-bin and things got very ugly.

On Saturday night in Cape Town, there was a beautiful resistance that left the hosts wondering what had happened.

Paddy Jackson from Ireland gets ready to kick during the test rugby match against the South Africa. Photo: Rodger Bosch/Getty Images
Paddy Jackson from Ireland gets ready to kick during the test rugby match against the South Africa. Photo: Rodger Bosch/Getty Images

Schmidt cut a down-beat figure in the musty boardroom afterwards when he met the press, but his broad smile at the full-time whistle told its own tale.

The recent criticism of the New Zealander, who is being linked with a return home, has clearly stung, yet he had every right to feel vindicated after watching his patched-up team play so well.

Leadership

Ireland had worried about their leadership in the absence of Paul O'Connell, Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney, Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony, yet all over the pitch players put their hands up.

South Africa's Pieter-Steph du Toit crosses the line to score a try. Photo: Rodger Bosch/Getty Images
South Africa's Pieter-Steph du Toit crosses the line to score a try. Photo: Rodger Bosch/Getty Images

Best led from the front with a heroic defensive effort, Heaslip and Jordi Murphy were immense as they racked up 23 tackles between them and kept coming back for more.

Yet it is what Ireland did with the ball that deserves the most credit.

When it was 15 v 15, they looked composed and comfortably the better team, but even with 13 men, they cleverly worked a gap for Jared Payne before Paddy Jackson dropped a goal to level the scores, and show the Boks that this wasn't going to be a cakewalk.

After half-time, Payne trusted his skills to throw a beautiful offload to Andrew Trimble to set things in motion for Conor Murray's try. The full-back was magnificent in what many believe to be his best position.

Even when they wobbled, when Jackson's pass was picked off by Peter-Steph du Toit and the gap came down to three points, Ireland went back down and nailed a penalty.

The final moments were reminiscent of another meeting with the All Blacks as the southern hemisphere team marched ominously towards the Ireland line, but whereas Dane Coles and Ryan Crotty had found meek resistance in 2013, JP Pietersen was met by four Irish players who combined to put him in touch to bring about the full-time whistle.

"South Africa aren't a team you can just hold on against; when you get the ball you have to take it to them and play against them. You have to feel confident with ball in hand," Murray reflected after the game.

"There was a bit of kicking, and we kicked and contested quite well, but at times you have to hold on to the ball. You can't just soak up their pressure constantly, because they're big, big men and eventually they will break you down.

"They tried a few times and I thought we re-loaded really well and got back and defended for each other.

"So, they'll get better and we'll get better too."

Ireland took the game to the Springboks and opened the scoring when the excellent Luke Marshall chipped through for Payne to score, with Lood de Jager sin-binned for an earlier offence as the home side's poor discipline cost them dear.

Lambie and Jackson swapped penalties before the game appeared to turn sharply in the hosts' favour when Stander went to block Lambie's kick and, as he came down, caught his former South Africa U-20s team-mate in the face with his hip.

The act was clumsy, reckless and left the Sharks out-half needing a stretcher, but the red card seemed extreme.

When it was followed by Henshaw's yellow as he hit Elton Jantjies high and late, albeit with both arms wrapped, after the replacement had brilliantly sent Lwazi Mvovo over for his side's first try, things looked grim.

But Best pulled his team into the huddle and said: 'It was always going to be a challenge to win here, now it's just a bigger challenge' and somehow Ireland outscored their opponents 3-0 while down to 13, holding out brilliantly before the half-time whistle.

That period was crucial and, having made it through, they struck for home with Murray's try almost as soon as Henshaw returned.

"It was an incredibly collective effort," Schmidt said.

"The nine minutes before half-time when we were down to 13 players, to just put them out in the corner, just to scramble and work as hard as the players did to keep them out. . .

"There was almost a direct repeat at the end of the second half again. The players can be incredibly proud of the effort they put in.

"At half-time, we said 'look, there's 90 seconds without Robbie', in that 90 seconds it's our kick-off, we'll kick-off deep and if they go into touch we'll drive that and we'll keep it a little bit narrow because trying to play expansive rugby with 13 against 15 is a recipe for disaster because you're going to be out-resourced somewhere through there.

"So we sort of put a strategy together for that first 90 seconds.

"We didn't quite execute it, we might have even lost a lineout but we defended well enough to shut them down.

"Robbie got back on and once he got back on I do think we looked dangerous a few times and we earned the try we got.

"Jared Payne, it was pure class to get the ball away through the tackle, Andrew Trimble good pace down the sideline, Willie le Roux got a little hand in but who's there to pick it up, Captain Fantastic, scoops it up, we get the continuity and on the back of that we're able to score.

"Once we got that try, there was still 35 minutes to go but I think the players then thought 'maybe' and the longer the half went they thought 'this is an opportunity' and they managed to dig in and make the most of it."

Jackson edged them 10 points in front, but then du Toit's try and Jantjies' conversion narrowed the gap.

Still, Ireland came and the fly-half shook off an injury to nail a tough kick to put six between them.

It would be enough as the new-look defence held and soon after making history, thoughts turned to a series win.

"Especially with Andy Farrell coming in, our new defensive structure is really good to play in," Murray said. "We've had a game now to test that, there'll be little tweaks here and there that we'll have to manage but we can get better, and we know they will.

"It's a great win, we'll enjoy it and there's obviously a chance to win a Test series now as well, which is massive.

"We've got the historic win, now with this group we always want to push on and want more. It's probably selfish and greedy, but it's a good thing too.

"That bit of history is banked, we can enjoy it but then we'll focus on next week."

SOUTH AFRICA - W le Roux; JP Pietersen, L Mapoe, D De Allende, L Mvovo; P Lambie (E Jantjies 23), F de Klerk; T Mtawarira (T Nkayane 59), A Strauss, F Malherbe (J Redelinghuys 78); E Etzebeth, L de Jager (PS du Toit 56); F Louw (W Whitely 56), S Kolisi, D Vermeulen.

IRELAND - J Payne; A Trimble, R Henshaw, L Marshall, K Earls (C Gilroy 77); P Jackson, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt, S Cronin 70), M Ross (T Furlong 59); I Henderson (U Dillane 70), D Toner; CJ Stander, J Murphy (R Ruddock 74), J Heaslip.

Ref - M Raynal (France)

 

Irish Independent

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