Emerging Ireland beaten by Bezuidenhout’s boot
Missed opportunities cost young side in Tbilisi Cup meeting with South African XV
Ian Keatley (right) and Ireland fell short against South Africa. Photograph: Tamuna Kulumbegashvili/Inpho
Scrumhalf Ntando Kebe turned in a man-of-the-match display and his halfback partner Bezuidenhout was unerring with the boot, landing four decisive penalties and converting Alshaun Bock’s 11th-minute try.
The young Irish side did well to recover from an early 10-0 deficit with replacement Michael Allen touching down in the second half and their scrum becoming a real weapon as the game wore on.
Allen’s try came when South African prop Ivann Espag was in the sin-bin for repreated scrum infringements, but Emerging Ireland were held scoreless for the remainder as Bezuidenhout’s fourth penalty late on sealed the result.
It was a valuable lesson for Allen Clarke’s charges in how to pick off scoring chances and close out a tight game, with the South Africans now just 80 minutes away from winning this inaugural tournament.
Ireland had enough possession and territory to be much closer on the scoreboard and maybe even pinch the victory with their pack maintaining a high work-rate under captain Rhys Ruddock’s baton.
Bezuidenhout was in unforgiving form from the kicking tee though and Ruddock and his team-mates were made to pay for that sloppy start and losing a number of breakdown decisions.
The South Africans got the edge in the first scrum, before Ireland turned the tables, and that teed up a seventh minute penalty for Bezuidenhout which he confidently converted.
Centre Noel Reid broke over halfway as Ireland got their attack in motion, and fullback Kearney was another lively runner in the opening quarter. However, the Irish defence gave way out wide when Rosco Speckman injected some pace and drew in two defenders on the right wing. He offloaded for the supporting Coenie van Wyk to continue the move and then send Bock away to touch down near the corner.
Bezuidenhout added the conversion but, despite leaking 10 points, there were some early positives for Ireland with the forwards rucking well and Keatley and John Cooney’s accurate distribution getting the outside backs involved with regularity.
A strong shunt in a scrum just outside the South African 22 won a penalty that Keatley sent through the uprights to open the Irish account.
The South Africans gave a glimpse of their attacking threat again when centre Adriaan Engelbrecht powered through midfield and it took the combined efforts of Kearney and Niall Annett to bring him down in front of the posts.
Hooker Annett then won a relieving penalty with strong work at the breakdown, before Ireland hit back with their own piece of backline class. Keatley used clean lineout ball to send Reid through a midfield gap, the supporting Brendan Macken was hauled down and an unfortunate knock on from prop Michael Bent gave possession back to the South Africans just when the Irish seemed poised to strike.
Ulster’s Annett often popped up in the right place at the right time, scooping up a loose ball to launch a counter attack. In addition, it was his great foraging at a ruck which won an important penalty decision in the Irish 22.