Thursday 23 November 2017

Irish lay down a huge marker

Ireland 38 South Africa 3

Sean O’Brien leads the celebrations after Jacob Stockdale’s second-half try. Photo: Sportsfile
Sean O’Brien leads the celebrations after Jacob Stockdale’s second-half try. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Before Saturday, Ireland had never beaten one of the southern hemisphere's big three by more than 17 points. After this record win, three of their leading lights quickly pointed out how the record margin had flattered them.

Party line? Joe Schmidt insisted he hadn't spoken to Sean O'Brien or Johnny Sexton since full-time.

Andrew Conway goes over to score Ireland’s first try. Photo: Sportsfile
Andrew Conway goes over to score Ireland’s first try. Photo: Sportsfile

Whatever the truth, they were on the same page. For this Irish team, there was nothing remarkable about this summary dismissal of South Africa.

The opposition, who in their last match had run New Zealand to a point, were made to look ordinary. Schmidt ruthlessly went after their strengths and then pounded their weaknesses relentlessly, his charges sucked the life out of them.

As starts to the season go, it was quite something.

They built a score - 3, 6 9, 14 - and then squeezed. Andy Farrell's defence was oppressive with Bundee Aki and CJ Stander leading the line. The set-piece was solid, the kicking game on the money, the new faces delivered and an unheralded bench made an impact.

Rob Herring shows his delight after scoring his side’s third try. Photo: Sportsfile
Rob Herring shows his delight after scoring his side’s third try. Photo: Sportsfile

Consider the final score, by far the most attractive of the four tries constructed by an Irish team who still have plenty of growth in their attacking game to come.

After Sean O'Brien follows Jacob Stockdale's carry with a trademark carry, the next generation take over.

Kieran Marmion (25, 17 caps) finds Joey Carbery (22, 5) who sends a delightful chip in behind for debutant Darren Sweetnam (24) who brilliantly scoops the ball up and keeps it alive somehow.

Protects

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, right, with South Africa assistant and future Munster coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, right, with South Africa assistant and future Munster coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Sportsfile

Marmion protects the ball well and then finds James Ryan (21, 3) who takes three defenders out of the equation and makes valuable metres. John Ryan (29, 10) ensures quick ball, Marmion feeds Dave Kilcoyne (28, 21) who deftly pulls it back to Carbery who sees the space and gets the ball to Robbie Henshaw (24, 30) and his skip pass puts Stockdale (21, 3) over.

Afterwards, Allister Coetzee hailed Ireland's experienced spine. It was Nos 1-10 who steered the ship in the right direction but it was the kids who took it home.

It wasn't perfect, Ireland went 46 minutes only scoring three points, but it must have been a deeply satisfying victory.

"You can only do what you can do and I think they did a really good job," Schmidt said.

"But I suppose if we had really had to fight and got a two-point win we would have been delighted as well. Sometimes when the score does get away it probably just does not have quite the same value, because you were not under as much pressure.

Ireland's Sean O'Brien applauds the supporters. Photo: Reuters
Ireland's Sean O'Brien applauds the supporters. Photo: Reuters

"We only really released the pressure in the last quarter, until then 17-3, they score once and it looked like down the left side they had a bit of a chance at one stage, suddenly if it gets to 17-10 better off and it is a one-score game again.

"It was only towards the end that we got away and that is the reality for us in that the size of the win is not as relevant as people might think because we are always trying to look at our own performance and the context of what we are allowed to do and what our opponents did to pressure us and how we responded to that."

Coetzee said his team had let themselves down.

"Any team can have an off day;any athlete, individual or team can have an off day," Schmidt said.

"I did not realise Jonny and Sean had said that we were a bit flattered, I have not really spoken to them after the game, but I would have to say it is incredibly satisfying it is a huge relief to have got the Guinness Series off in the manner we did because you are always chasing first time results.

"This time last year there (in Chicago) was euphoria at the end of the game and by the time 2am in the morning came I was going through the game maybe finding fault, finding quality and trying to build the quality and repair the fault because that is the practicality of it.

"I know it might take the emotion out of it, but is almost what you try to do when you are coaching, but I think for the players it has to be a little bit emotional, because they have to bring so much energy to every performance.

"I don't think there was anyone who really on today's performance for us that didn't have a really solid performance. It doesn't take too many patchy players in the opposition who didn't quite have an on day for little gaps to appear."

The coach must take credit for having his players prepared to such a degree. The work done in the two weeks leading up to the game paid dividends as Ireland out-smarted their opponents.

Notably, they were dominant physically too. Aki set the tone with an early hit that ended Coenie Oosthuizen's tour after just one minute, Stockdale's 76th-minute smash on Dillyn Leyds sucked any remaining life out of the Springboks.

Iain Henderson ran over the two lauded second-rows, while CJ Stander hit anything that moved in green.

The only person to have an off day was the marketing person who figured a dark grey change kit was a good idea for a team who only ever clash with one team who wear deep green.

Discerning which team was which was a challenge, but it quickly became apparent that the team playing well was the one in the slightly darker shirts.

They forced a penalty from the first scrum after Oosthuizen had been stretched off and Sexton knocked it over.

He added two more, before Andrew Conway capitalised on some awful work in the air by Cortnall Skosan to score his first international try.

Jantjies and Sexton exchanged penalties as the contest entered a long period of stalemate in which Ireland were comfortable, if frustrated, in attack.

Their bench fixed that problem, however, as Rhys Ruddock showed brilliant foot-work to score, Rob Herring popped over at the back of a maul to touch down against the country of his birth and Stockdale marked an evening to remember with his score.

By then, the 'Boks were experiencing the familiar feeling of humiliation that has followed them around in recent years.

They had been beaten by a far superior team who can look forward to bigger and better things in 2017/18.

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 70), 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.

REF - B O'Keeffe (New Zealand).

Irish Independent

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