Tuesday 23 January 2018

Alan Quinlan: Brilliant achievement can kick Ireland onto next level

Jamie Heaslip embraces Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell, who has to take huge credit for the performance. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jamie Heaslip embraces Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell, who has to take huge credit for the performance. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Alan Quinlan

Everyone knows how difficult it is to beat South Africa in their own back yard. Their record speaks for itself but having played there myself, I have an even greater appreciation for what Ireland achieved on Saturday.

Down to 13 men at one stage during the first half, they easily could have buckled under the pressure but the character that they showed was brilliant and to a man, they each stood up and were counted.

It brought back memories of the win over Australia in Eden Park in 2011. The sheer heroics of the players means that the victory in Cape Town is right up there with our greatest ones.

When you consider the amount of top-class players that were unavailable to Joe Schmidt, it makes the achievement all the greater.

Andy Farrell has to take huge credit for the performance as well. We knew that he would improve Ireland's line-speed, and that was seen on Saturday.

Ireland got off the line much quicker than they have done in their last few games and when you're going up against such a physical side, it is imperative that you do so.


There was a very low tackle focus and that set the tone right throughout the side.

Defence is all about attitude and you need a coach that will inspire you get back off the ground, and along with a massive amount of respect, Farrell brings that.

The big talking point was how Paddy Jackson would handle the cauldron but he's been brilliant for Ulster all season and he carried that form through for Ireland with a fantastic performance that will give him huge confidence.

Jackson has had some tough experiences in a green jersey in the past but sometimes you have to go through those to get to the top.

I always felt that we were in with a chance if we matched them physically and got our set-piece right, which we did.

It almost seems unfair to single out one player but Conor Murray was outstanding.

His work-rate was phenomenal and the amount of ground he covered meant that Ireland were able to cope well with being a man down.

I didn't think it was a red card at the time and I haven't changed my mind now. It seems as if you can't jump in the air nowadays, and that's what CJ Stander did.

Pat Lambie left himself open in the way that he was going for the dinked kick. Stander obviously caught him but I didn't feel as if there was any intent there. The severity of the injury and the baying crowd definitely influenced the referee's decision.

There were shades of Jared Payne's red card for Ulster against Saracens two years ago and I'm sure this one will be looked at closely as well.

It could have unravelled from there but the determination of players will stand to them for the rest of the tour and beyond.

All last week South Africa spoke about wanting to play an expansive game-plan under Allister Coetzee but they seemed to be caught between two systems on Saturday.

The Springboks' strength has always been in their ball-carrying but they moved away from that and a lot of their play was far too lateral and disjointed.

They had no plan B, but even though they did butcher a few opportunities, take nothing away from Ireland's win.

The amount of self-belief that this will give guys cannot be understated.

It was the same during my time with Munster, when we won in France for the first time in 1999.

That was absolutely massive for us and I believe this win can have a similar effect on the Irish players.

Since the World Cup, the debate has been raging about the gap between the northern and southern hemisphere teams but with England and Ireland both winning down under on Saturday, it showed that maybe the gap is not as big as many believe.

The Springboks may be a team in transition but don't forget, so too are Ireland.

A different beast awaits this weekend but having got that first ever win on South African soil, Ireland certainly won't fear what lies ahead in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Irish Independent

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