Ireland waste a golden opportunity
Ireland 12 South Africa 16:Disappointing, frustrating, perplexing; choose your description but for the Ireland team and management the four point deficit on the scoreboard shouldn’t distract from the feeling that this was an opportunity lost in a game where the fare was too often substandard when measured by a barometer of elite level Test rugby.
The kernel of this contest centred on two yellow cards. South African right wing JP Pietersen received his for a dangerous, early, shoulder led collision with Chris Henry on 31 minutes. South Africa escaped to the dressingroom without conceding another point, trailing 12-3 at the interval.
Jamie Heaslip, captaining Ireland for the first time, couldn’t argue the toss when referee Wayne Barnes penalised him soon after the restart for coming in the side to thwart a goal-line bound Springbok maul. During the Irish number eight’s absence the visitors racked up 10 points. South African outhalf Pat Lambie would add another penalty on 69 minutes to leave Ireland chasing the improbable, based on the second-half performance.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney will reflect on some decent performances, notably up front where debutant Richardt Strauss underlined his quality. Cian Healy and Donnacha Ryan made huge contributions, while Mike McCarthy was tireless, with and without the ball. The backrow was diligent in application but couldn’t find any space.
The Springboks conceded far too many penalties in the first half, indiscipline that they rectified after the interval when their power and size helped them boss the contact areas. Ireland’s back play was largely lateral and predictable, trying to use find Simon Zebo on the wrap around. He was too deep when getting possession and Springboks simply drifted with impunity.
Zebo and Gordon D’Arcy, particularly in the first half, provided most of the go-forward ball; Tommy Bowe should have been involved more. Ruck ball was a little too slow, large numbers were required to free up the ball and this meant the Springboks were always comfortable in defence.
Indiscipline crept into Ireland’s play in the second half. It was partially attributable to the ferocious commitment and work-rate of hammering into and being hammered by physically bigger players. Whatever zip was there evaporated until the arrival of the bench; Michael Bent won a couple of penalties.
South Africa were forced into a late change when Tendai ‘the Beast’ Mtawarira suffered heart palpitations and was withdrawn on the morning of the game. Former Leinster prop CJ van der Linde was introduced into the team with a current member of the Heineken Cup champions’ roster, Heinke van der Merwe coming into the replacements.
Ireland’s aggressive defensive line superbly led by D’Arcy, who made three thumping tackles in the first half, coupled with their work at the breakdown provided a lucrative source of points in the first half. Jonathan Sexton, kicking quite beautifully from the placed ball, posted four from five attempts; his only miss a difficult 37 metre effort from close to the touchline.