Springboks' power proves crucial as Ireland can't quite get over the line
MATCH REPORT: Ireland 12 South Africa 16The bravery, the effort, the resilience, the enthusiasm and even much of the ambition couldn’t be faulted. A rejigged and refreshed Irish team put their bodies on the line but, not unexpectedly, the absence of so many big hitters left them just a little light in ball carriers.
Heyneke Meyer spoke afterwards of the Boks having a few soft moments in the first-half, “but there were no soft moments in the second-half”.
No, Springboks don’t do soft. In all bar one forward head-to-head the Boks were bigger, on average by five kilos a man in the pack, and even as Mike McCarthy, Ireland’s most explosive performer in the contact zone, and the rest were taking the fight to South Africa in the first half the unrelenting ferocity of the collisions made you wonder if this lighter Irish side could withstand such physical intensity over 80 minutes.
You also wondered if the Springboks’ error count would be reduced as they found their rhythm. Sure enough, in the event Ireland could not quite do so, whereas South Africa, with Ruan Pienaar assuming control, did.
The Irish defence withstood the battering and straight hard running very well, with good line speed and tackling accuracy in the 10-12-13 axis, and there was a better shape to Ireland’s attack, with decoy runners and trailers, though at times their back play was quite lateral, and for all their willing carrying into contact, they couldn’t penetrate.
It was a slugfest at the breakdown, and well though Chris Henry, McCarthy, Richardt Strauss and others did generate turnovers or slow down ball, even when Ireland began to attack narrowly they couldn’t generate quick enough ball themselves.
Still, their positivity and greater accuracy for much of the first half enabled Jonathan Sexton to deservedly push them 12-3 ahead at the interval, though, in truth, the game had begun to slip away from them in the last ten minutes of the half after JP Pietersen had been sinbinned for his early, high shoulder charge on Chris Henry.
Ireland let this initiative slip away when Conor Murray elected to box kick off a lineout drive about 35 metres out.
But even then Jonathan Sexton, who had struck four penalties beautifully, just shaved the left upright with an angled 45-metre penalty.
Had Bowe been able to hold onto Sexton’s up-and-under the second half might have begun differently.
Instead, South Africa worked their way into Irish territory, their lineout maul earning a yellow card for Jamie Heaslip and from the ensuing penalty and pressure, Pienaar scored the game’s decisive try.
Andrew Trimble then compounded fingertipping a Hougaard kick into touch by conceding another lineout outside the Irish 22 with a poor kick from a hard-won turnover won by Healy, which led to a scrum penalty against Mike Ross and Pat Lambie making it 16-12.
Earlier in the day, Irish supporters would have been encouraged as the news filtered through that Tendai “the Beast” Mtawarira had been ruled out on the day of the game with heart problems which also can’t have been pleasant news within the South African camp itself. It meant that the former Leinster player CJ van der Linde, nominally a tighthead, had to start at loosehead against Mike Ross.