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.
There’s no doubt that the Springboks simplified things for Ireland from a defensive perspective as they sought out the tackler rather than the space. Buoyed by what the visitors believed to be their physical superiority they tried to run over opponents. It owed more to testosterone than imagination.
When not looking for contact Lambie went to the skies, kicking a series of Garryowens; most were poorly directed. Ireland’s set piece was a little patchy initially, conceding a free-kick at the first scrum – they would go on to correct that aberration with some authority – while also coughing up three lineouts.
It denied them field position and possession and offered a valve for the pressure they were trying to build. Still the home side tried to use the ball, looking to offload in the tackle but were only able to make sporadic inroads. Poor decision making and a lack of precision cost them on a couple of occasions.
South Africa scrambled well to shore up any initial line breach and there was only one occasion in the first 40 minutes when Ireland sniffed a try scoring chance but Keith Earls’s attempted cut-out pass to Bowe scudded into touch.
D’Arcy’s quick feet, leg drive and appreciation of space ensured his team went forward more often than not. Bowe made one fine incursion into the line but couldn’t quite wriggle free while Zebo cut a couple of very good lines.
The South Africans were 11-4 down on the penalty count just before the interval and that was the real tale of the first half. There were a couple of addendums, the yellow card received by Pietersen; Ireland could not make the one-man advantage pay which was in marked contrast to the Springboks just after the re-start.
They kicked a penalty to the corner and Heaslip was dispatched to the bin. The visitors again kicked to the corner, Ireland penalised once more but this time the ’Boks went quickly and two rucks later Ruan Pienaar squeezed beneath Ryan’s valiant effort to touch down under the posts.
Lambie added the conversion and then a penalty; in the time Heaslip was off the pitch South Africa ran up 10 points to lead 13-12. The South Africans were now emphatically winning the collisions, both in attack and defence, as the physicality of the contest began to take its toll on the home side. Irish players began to make needless errors and their efforts became disjointed.
Sexton undertook a long range penalty that fell just short. Ireland looked to attack the fringes of rucks but met with doughty resistance; every yard exacted a huge price physically. The penalty count in the opening 20 minutes of the second half saw Ireland concede six to their opponents’ one. The ’Boks quickly tagged on two more to that count; on both occasions down to replacement Van der Merwe. From the second Lambie kicked an easy 18 metre penalty to put his side 16-12 ahead with 10 minutes remaining.
Bent and Iain Henderson came on to win their first caps – Dave Kilcoyne had earlier for a three minute spell when replacing Healy – Bent winning Ireland a penalty at the first scrum. Ireland’s back play continued to be lateral and largely conducted behind the gain-line; they didn’t commit defenders and the Springboks were both patient and organised.
The Mexican waves became more frequent as the game disintegrated further into a morass or errors and set-piece torpor. Replacement outhalf Ronan O’Gara’s ill judged chip bringing an unfortunate and anti-climactic end to proceedings. The score-line suggested a pulsating contest; the reality was sadly somewhat different.
Scoring sequence: 5 mins:Sexton penalty, 3-0;
10:Sexton penalty, 6-0;
17:Lambie penalty, 6-3;
20:Sexton penalty, 9-3;
30:Sexton penalty, 12-3.
44:Pienaar try, Lambie conversion, 12-10;
52:Lambie penalty, 12-13;
69:Lambie penalty, 12-16.
IRELAND:Simon Zebo (Munster); Tommy Bowe (Ulster), Keith Earls (Munster), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Mike Ross (Leinster); Mike McCarthy (Connacht), Donnacha Ryan (Munster); Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster, c)
Replacements:S Cronin (Leinster) for Strauss 3-10 mins; D Kilcoyne (Munster) for Healy 41-44 mins; F McFadden (Leinster) for Trimble 58 mins; E Reddan (Leinster) for Murray 61 mins; D O’Callaghan (Munster) for Ryan 63-67 mins; M Bent (Leinster) for Ross 70 mins; I Henderson (Ulster) for O’Mahony 70 mins; O’Callaghan for McCarthy; Cronin for Strauss 75 mins; R O’Gara for D’Arcy 75 mins.
SOUTH AFRICA:Zane Kirchner (Bulls); J P Pietersen (Sharks), Jaco Taute (Lions), Jean de Villiers (W Province, capt), Francois Hougaard (Bulls); Pat Lambie (Sharks), Ruan Pienaar (Ulster); CJ van der Linde (Golden Lions), Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), Jannie du Plessis (Sharks); Eben Etzebeth (W Province), Juandre Kruger (Bulls); Francois Louw (Bath), Willem Alberts (Sharks), Duane Vermeulen (W Province).
Replacements:P Cilliers (Lions) for du Plessis 56 mins; Heinke van der Merwe (Leinster) for van der Linde 63 mins; M Coetzee (Sharks) for Alberts 65 mins; F van der Merwe (Bulls) for Etzebeth 70 mins; , M Steyn (Bulls), J de Jongh (W Province), L Mvovo (Sharks.)
Referee: Wayne Barnes(England)
Yellow card:JP Pietersen (South Africa) 31 mins. J Heaslip (Ireland) 42 mins.