By dropping the pace we let Boks set the tempo
ANALYSIS: Don’t ever dance with the bear, because the bear decides when the music stops!
As the Dropkick Murphys unloaded I’m Shipping Up To Boston and the stadium exploded in fireworks the Springboks looked decidedly disinterested, bunched loosely awaiting the entry of An tUachtaráin. Body language tells a lot and the South Africans were very casual which excited me. That all changed in the second half as the bear decided to stop the music through brutal physicality, pounding Ireland in a manner that only real pace could negotiate.
There were many good points in both style and personnel to comfort us beyond the result. I’m delighted that the secondrows were superb where Mike McCarthy was a joy to watch. It wasn’t necessarily what McCarthy did but how he did it. He was the leading tackler on the Ireland side but all his tackles were offensive, stopping the Boks dead. He was also very comfortable defensively in open space which for a big man can be very lonely. When carrying the ball he has the ability to truck up crap and when the option arrives can circle pass, spin pass or simply pass. He is a real footballer but in forcing myself to watch him off the ball I’m glad to report there is real dog in him also. Jonathan Sexton’s third penalty came from a team move left to right but McCarthy got on the ball twice. There is real merit in aligning him with Paul O’Connell but for O’Connell to remain the enforcer in the number four jersey with McCarthy the footballer.
However, the lineout misfired, for many reasons, but will improve.
Along with McCarthy, others shone such as hooker Richardt Strauss who managed Amhrán na bhFiann before things got tasty. His cousin in particular was a specimen to behold in the tight and out wide, as was Jean de Villiers who has perfected the hard inside line.
There is a niggling nastiness about what the Boks do, not just resorting to massive contact, which was all that remained in check when Ireland kept the pace up. As soon as it dropped the contact became a war of attrition. Where Keith Earls had been dancing beautifully, leaving Springbok winger Francois Hougaard for dead, now he was triple teamed.
In fact, the sheer size of them brings style into immediate focus. Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe were symbiotic in their blossoming relationship, finding total connectivity in the tightest of spaces.
How Gordon D’Arcy wasn’t killed in the opening 40 minutes for every inch he eked I’ll never know. Understandably he and others tired towards the end. That said, why 124 capped Ronan OGara comes on for five minutes to shift Sexton out one is beyond me. What is the value in that? Would five minutes (or more) for Ian Keatley or others be of far more benefit?