Saturday 20 October 2018

All changed, changed utterly in Ireland's relationship with Boks

Ireland 38 South Africa 3

Andrew Conway scores the first of Ireland’s four tries in the victory over South Africa at the Aviva Stadium last night. Photo: Sportsfile
Andrew Conway scores the first of Ireland’s four tries in the victory over South Africa at the Aviva Stadium last night. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

If you were in South Africa two summers ago you would have got a close-up on how the relationship has changed between the Springboks and Ireland. While the trip to Dublin, since Eddie O'Sullivan's days at the helm, had become one the tourists weren't keen on, throwing the party at home was still a low-risk affair. Then Ireland, a numerically challenged Ireland, did the unthinkable in Cape Town, and it was a whole new ball game.

Yesterday's events at a full Lansdowne Road gave more momentum to the new order. The bookies - the same lads who reckoned we would win the RWC 2023 recommendation at a canter - called this one for Ireland by a margin of six points. They're having a rough time of it these days.

Ireland's Jacob Stockdale tries to fend off South Africa's Damian de Allende. Photo: PA
Ireland's Jacob Stockdale tries to fend off South Africa's Damian de Allende. Photo: PA

And, clearly, so are the South Africans. The calendar year 2017 has been kinder than the one before it, but its tail-end is carrying a fair bit of sting. France, Italy and Wales stand between them and getting the plane home to enjoy Christmas. They'll have to endure a lot more pain before that flight.

For Ireland it was a good day. A record day in fact, blitzing the previous best, in 2006. And long before we got to half-time, it looked like that 17-point margin would be wiped out.

Pretty much every department delivered as ordered. Four tries to none was a good return; new cap Bundee Aki did well enough in what was a full-on midfield battle - physically at any rate - while Darren Sweetnam can look forward to a bit more than five minutes against Fiji on Saturday.

The only confusing bit was the kit. Whoever thinks grey is a good idea in any team sport needs to go back to the colour chart. Thankfully the team rose above their drab gear, and on a perfect day that had started wet and cold, we got a one-sided but watchable Test match.

Ireland's Andrew Conway claims the ball. Photo: Reuters
Ireland's Andrew Conway claims the ball. Photo: Reuters

From first to last Ireland never looked in trouble, while for their opponents the start could hardly have been worse. Tight head Coenie Oosthuizen, only back in the side, was gone inside a minute having wrenched his knee hideously; and from the resulting scrum they conceded a penalty which man-of-the-match Johnny Sexton goaled from close to halfway. And if that wasn't enough, when a few minutes later they had men over and a great chance to put Ireland under pressure, Damian de Allende - he looks like a six in the clothes of a 12 - bogged it away. Awful stuff.

The hat-trick came in circumstances that suggested they were stuck in a hole from which there was no escape: Siya Kolisi put his boot to a ball that had emerged from the ruck - Ireland had got their numbers wrong - with ref Ben O'Keefe having called it as such. And then he had a change of heart. Penalty to Ireland, with Sexton making it 9-0.

To their credit the Boks kept plugging away. It wasn't easy, with scrum-half Ross Cronje battling to find any sort of rhythm - filling the depth chart of nines in South Africa is one of their many issues - while opposite him Conor Murray was having a field day. He kicked seven times in the first half - much of it aimed at wing Courtnall Skosan - and while his team-mates were knocking it on as much as regathering, the Boks were unable to do anything with them.

When Murray put one up off a scrum in the tramlines Skosan and Cronje couldn't deal with it, which opened the door for a busy Andrew Conway to gather and score from 30 metres. Conway's kicking game hadn't been great but he was very good on other issues.

Rugby Union - Autumn Internationals - Ireland vs South Africa - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland - November 11, 2017 South Africa's Andries Coetzee in action REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Rugby Union - Autumn Internationals - Ireland vs South Africa - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland - November 11, 2017 South Africa's Andries Coetzee in action REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Sexton missed the conversion but he looked like the only one concerned about it. His team were ahead on the scoreboard because they were ahead at the set-piece, the penalty count (6-3) and everywhere else that mattered.

Perhaps they took too much out of that at half-time, for most of the third quarter was spent in their own half. The reward for the Boks was a penalty from Elton Jantjies after CJ Stander - Ireland's top-carrier - high-tackled Tendai Mtawarira.

The satisfaction from that one lasted 13 minutes until Sexton took three at the other end for hands in the ruck. That didn't signal a shift in territory, which had evened out from the first half. We were well into the final quarter when South Africa - with Handré Pollard on for Jantjies at 10 - started putting together the kind of phases that might trouble their hosts, whereupon Stockdale produced the dump-tackle of the day to empty his opposite number Dillyn Leyds.

No one seemed to appreciate the suddenness of the impact more than the South Africans. Within a minute Stockdale had been put clear off a set-piece move and he combined well with Conway who again ran the right line. So did replacement Rhys Ruddock, who did very well to carry and score off the ruck.

South Africa's Ross Cronje launches the ball. Photo: Reuters
South Africa's Ross Cronje launches the ball. Photo: Reuters

With a few minutes left another replacement, Rob Herring got over off a lineout maul before Stockdale closed the show in the final minute, with a fine try in the corner. Four tries in a canter. Not too much wrong with that.

Scorers - Ireland: Sexton 4 pens, con; Conway, Ruddock, Herring, Stockdale tries; Carbery 2 cons; South Africa: Jantjies pen.

Ireland: R Kearney (D Sweetnam 75); A Conway, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (J Carbery 75), C Murray (K Marmion 71); C Healy (D Kilcoyne 67), R Best (capt) (R Herring 67), T Furlong (John Ryan 71), I Henderson (James Ryan 71), D Toner, P O'Mahony (R Ruddock 51), CJ Stander, S O'Brien.

South Africa: A Coetzee; D Leyds, J Kriel, D de Allende (F Venter 57), C Skosan; E Jantjies (H Pollard 57), R Cronje (R Paige 73); T Mtwarira (S Kitshoff 55), M Marx (B Mbonambi 69), C Oesthuizen (W Louw 1), E Etzebeth (capt), L de Jager (F Mostert 57), S Kolisi (U Casseim 69), F Louw, P-S du Toit (S Kolisi 75).

Referee: B O'Keefe (NZ).

McKinley shines on Azzurri Debut

Italy ended a nine-match losing streak with a hard-fought 19-10 victory over Fiji in Catania as their Irish-born out-half Ian McKinley became the first man to play international rugby in specially manufactured goggles.

The 27-year-old Benetton Treviso man lost the sight in his left eye in an on-pitch incident seven years ago but recovered to return to the game and qualify for Italy through residency.

McKinley came off the bench as a 61st-minute replacement for Carlo Canna and kicked a penalty to help edge Italy to victory. Canna had struck three penalties and converted Simone Ferrari's early try.

The visitors went in level at 10-10 at half-time through Leone Nakarawa's converted try, but Conor O'Shea's side edged ahead after the interval to avenge their summer defeat by the Fijians, who play Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.

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