Ireland spring a surprise to send Springboks packing in style
Ireland 29 South Africa 15
The talk for the last week has been about the new South Africa. Not Rainbow Nation stuff, rather the way the Springboks have developed their game - beyond steamrolling opponents, reversing, and steam-rolling them again - to something that allowed for attacking spaces as well as faces.
And off the field too they have been on something of a charm offensive since landing in Dublin last Monday. A man well acquainted with the Boks, and what makes them tick, came away from one of their sessions last week impressed by the cheery demeanour of all concerned. Not usual, that.
Well, last night, by the time they had a chance to reflect on their biggest ever setback in this fixture, their mood will have dimmed somewhat. For Joe Schmidt and all involved in the planning of a performance that was remarkably accurate given some serious issues at the set-piece, this was a triumph.
Picking off at least one of the two Sanzar countries in this series was the target. At least that's what they said in the build-up. Perhaps it was both. Either way, they are very much on track.
What started out as a game to have you on the edge of your seat turned into something much different. By the 70th minute, however, when man of the match Johnny Sexton's sixth successful kick from as many attempts put Ireland 19-10 ahead, the crowd were on their feet - safe in the knowledge that the result was sorted.
Sexton deserved his award, for everything he did was on the money. Well served by Conor Murray, and secure in the physical contribution of the new pair outside him -Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne - the outhalf had a terrific game. All over the field players queued up to do their bit.
Rhys Ruddock - a late replacement when Chris Henry cried off after a viral issue yesterday morning - was selfless, and Paul O'Connell led really well.
After a night and morning of heavy rain, you feared for the home eight against an outstanding forward pack, stuffed with experience and power. The home team may not have biffed their visitors about the place but when they went toe to toe they didn't suffer either.
Except in the set-piece. In the circumstances you could see why the Boks were so keen on scrum and lineout. This was Mike Ross's 22nd consecutive start, since missing the opening Test in New Zealand two years ago - he is the only man in the squad to be so consistently selected - and he can hardly have been so concerned on any of the previous 21, given his inaction for the past month.
So the South Africans were keen to put a huge pressure on Ireland's front-row, and as the first half wore on it began to yield a dividend in penalties. The downside for them was in using those awards to go their excellent lineout - they were faultless on the throw and take but the home team had done their work on nipping around the back before the maul was actually formed. And when it was formed Ireland defended well enough, helped by the Boks struggling to keep ball in hand at the back. When thereafter South Africa started taking ball off the top it was almost with a sulk on.
It wasn't until the 57th minute that eventually they got it right close in, with the bruising Marcel Coetzee, and by then they were clearly very frustrated. Sexton had Ireland 6-3 in front at the break - Handré Pollard didn't open South Africa's account until the 38th minute - and the most important passage of the period was a long spell in the second quarter when the Boks parked in Ireland's corner only to come away with nothing.
They looked in real trouble early in the second half when Ruddock got over fairly easily from a lineout maul, the position coming courtesy of Bowe fetching his own Garryowen and then Henshaw poking the ball into the corner. So 13-3 was alarming the visitors, but the next critical juncture would come after Coetzee's try. That had reduced it to a three-point game, but six minutes later a crazy challenge from Duane Vemeulen on Jamie Heaslip allowed Sexton pick off three points. It was a huge moment, and put the Boks back to the foot of the hill. To the delight of the crowd, Ireland kept them there.
Turning over the visitors at a ruck 10 metres out gave Ireland unlikely ball which they kept through some around-the-corner rugby until the penalty came. A perfect strike put Ireland out to 19-10 and there was no way they would be overhauled from there. Just three minutes later, Bowe finished off a fine try after a perfect chip from Murray to the corner, and replacement Ian Madigan had another three points on the board by the time JP Pietersen responded with what in fairness was a lovely try wide out. By then the crowd were planning their night out.
And Ireland are contemplating what would be a perfect start to the World Cup build-up with an attractive three from three. Having been careful not the mention RWC 2015 at any point along the way, this result inevitably brings it all a little bit closer.
Scorers: Ireland: T Bowe, R Ruddock tries; J Sexton 4 pens, 1 con; I Madigan 1 pen. South Africa: JP Pietersen, M Coetzee tries; H Pollard 1 pen, 1 con.
Ireland: R Kearney (F Jones 74); T Bowe, J Payne (E Reddan 79), R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton (I Madigan 74), C Murray; J McGrath, S Cronin (R Strauss 59), M Ross (R Ah You 74), D Toner (M McCarthy 74), P O'Connell, P O'Mahony (T O'Donnell 71), J Heaslip, R Ruddock.
South Africa: W le Roux; C Hendricks, J Serfontein, J de Villiers (capt), B Habana; H Pollard (P Lambie 67), F Hougaard (C Reinach 57); T Mtawarira (T Nyakane 67), B de Plessis (A Strauss 51; yc 67-), J du Plessis (C oesthuizen 71), E Etzebeth (B Botha 65), V Matfield, M Coetzee (B du Plessis 72 temp), D Vermeulen, T Mohoje (S Burger 48).
Referee: R Poite (France).
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