Clinical Ireland put sorry Springboks to the sword in record-breaking win
Ireland 38 South Africa 3
A record win, a solid performance and the infusion of new blood for the second half of this World Cup cycle meant that his was a satisfying day's work for Ireland.
Joe Schmidt’s side smashed the previous 17-point deficit earned with a 32-15 win in 2006 as three tries in the last 20 minutes put a gloss on a hard-working effort early on.
It was classic Schmidt stuff as a disciplined and controlled Ireland took their opportunities to build a score, before hammering home their advantage when their opponents tired.
At times it was pretty ugly, but it wasn’t Ireland’s job to entertain. They built this win on a dominant pack effort, a lightning quick defensive line that shut their opponents down and kept them to three points and a solid, unspectacular kicking game.
Like the decision to have Ireland play in grey, it was dull, but at the end of it all Schmidt’s team emerged with the victory over a mediocre South Africa team who fell well short of the standard they set when running New Zealand to a point last month.
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Given these teams are destined to meet in a World Cup quarter-final in two years’ time it was quite the statement of intent.
Tries from Rhys Ruddock, Rob Herring and Jacob Stockdale stretched the deficit and heaped misery on under-pressure ‘Boks coach Allister Coetzee.
For much of the game, Ireland failed to hit the attacking standards they expect of themselves but it wasn’t to matter as the Springboks lacked the guile to break them down and had enough chinks in their armour for the home side’s clever half-backs to exploit
Bundee Aki and Darren Sweetnam made their debuts, Stockdale got a try his first proper run on the wing as James Ryan got 11 minutes on the Aviva Stadium turf for the first time.
It was a good evening’s work, but they won’t be fooling themselves either. The next step is to beat Fiji and Argentina with a little more panache
Aki opened the game with a monstrous hit that took Coenie Oosthuisen out of the game, while Stockdale made his mark with a thundering tackle on Dyllin Leyds with 12 minutes remaining that had his team-mates bounding over to congratulate him.
After that, they went for the jugular and while man of the match Johnny Sexton said the scoreline flattered them it was a deserved win.
Aki’s first impact was to meet Springbok prop Oosthuisen head on and, with the help of Sexton, drive him backwards. The tighthead landed awkwardly and had to be stretchered off – a significant blow to their scrummaging power after just one minute.
Rory Best knocked on, which meant Wilco Louw came in and had a scrum on his own 10m line to get into the game. The set-piece went down on the loosehead’s side and Johnny Sexton opened the scoring.
Although they were trying to put some width on their game, Ireland’s accuracy was below where it needed to be but their scrum was on top with Louw struggling under pressure from Cian Healy.
Sexton doubled Ireland’s lead after Lood de Jager didn’t roll away following his tackle on Iain Henderson.
The out-half then worked a neat wraparound and put Andrew Conway into space. The covering defence caught the winger, but referee Ben O’Keefe penalised Siya Kolisi for kicking in the ruck – despite calling that the ball was out – and Sexton made it 9-0.
Without excelling, Ireland were in a commanding position and, although Francois Louw flattened Sean O’Brien, the majority of collisions were going the home side’s way. In particular, Henderson was enjoying a big game with ball in hand.
They put real distance between the teams in the 25th minute as the pre-match concerns about the Springboks’ back three came home to roost.
Ireland mauled their on CJ Stander’s lineout take and when they ran aground, Conor Murray hoisted an up and under. Courtnall Skosan missed it completely and when Malcolm Marx bit in for the bouncing ball, Conway got there first and there was no one home to stop him scoring his first try.
Sexton’s conversion struck a post but a moment of poor discipline gave the visiting side a chance to strike as he hit Elton Jantjes late.
His opposite number put the ball into touch, but Ireland’s defence stood up with a series of big hits before CJ Stander got himself over the ball and won a penalty to allow Sexton clear his lines.
A knock-on by Henderson handed the men in green another opportunity and Dyllin Leyds made big gains up the right wing, but when they swung left Kolisi couldn’t deliver the final pass to Skosan and Ireland escaped.
A clever piece of play from Robbie Henshaw earned Ireland some late field position from which to finish the half on a high.
The centre cleaned up when Rob Kearney dropped a Garryowen, chipped in behind and then pinned Anries Coetzee in behind with a fine tackle.
Jantjies’ clearance only went to the edge of the ’22 and when Kearney claimed Sexton’s kick the Irish were rolling forward until the out-half was penalised for taking Leyds out off the ball.
South Africa cleared but Peter O’Mahony won the ball back. However, Ireland couldn’t make the possession count and had to settle for a 14-point lead at the break.
That was reduced by three points after just two minutes of the second-half after CJ Stander handed Jantjies an easy opportunity from the tee with a high tackle.
Francois Louw handed Sexton a chance to establish good attacking position by going off his feet and from the lineout, Ireland got their drive moving but Pieter-Steph du Toit got his long arms involved and turned the ball over.
Sexton cancelled out the penalty with one of his own after another poor piece of Springbok discipline at the break-down, but at the hour-mark approached the game had lost its rhythm.
Allister Coetzee responded by sending replacement out-half Handre Pollard into the fray but his first act was to hand Ireland a lineout on the edge of the ’22 as he stepped into touch when fielding Conway’s kick ahead.
From the lineout, Ireland looked to get their ball carriers moving but Malcolm Marx got his hands on the ball and another chance passed.
They made sure of the win with a try that finally lit up the Aviva Stadium as Sexton orchestrated a set-play that saw Stockdale enter the line at pace and release Conway down the right and, after a quick recycle against the grain, Rhys Ruddock powered over to score.
Sexton converted to give the scoreline a gloss.
With the bench on, Ireland forced a scrum penalty and Joey Carbery went to the corner. The maul took over from there and Cape Town-born Rob Herring came away with his first international try on his second cap.
Carbery converted and then played a leading role in the coup de grace, chipping neatly ahead for Sweetnam who did well to recycle before working the ball wide left where Henshaw found Stockdale in space and the 21-year-old crossed.
The replacement out-half converted from the touch-line to finish the job.
Job done, plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the season ahead.
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), S O’Brien, CJ Stander.
SOUTH AFRICA – A Coetzee; D Leyds, J Kriel, D de Allende (F Venter 570, C Skosan; E Jantjies (H Pollard 57), R Cronje; T Mtawarira (S Kitsoff 54), M Marx (B Mbonambi ), C Oosthuizen (W Louw 2); E Etzebeth (capt), L de Jager (F Mostert 67); S Kolisi (U Casseim 71), PS du Toit (S Kolisi HIA 75), F Louw.
Referee: B O’Keefe (New Zealand)