Springboks' power proves crucial as Ireland can't quite get over the line
It also meant yet another Leinster man, Heinke van der Meuwe was promoted to the bench, and his introduction past the hour against a tiring Ross helped turn the screw.
In keeping with a game that featured four props and a hooker from Leinster (surely a record) as well as a former Leinster prop, this prompted Declan Kidney to introduce Michael Bent for his debut (fittingly enough in all black) on his first game in this country. With the benefit of hindsight, Kidney and co might even privately wish they’d brought him in a little sooner.
Both a cause and a result of the turnaround was the penalty count, which had been 11-5 to Ireland in the first half but was the exact reverse in the second.
Wayne Barnes’s interpretations at the breakdown were as curiously inconsistent as ever, particularly in ensuring tacklers released after the tackle and he was, at any rate, highly selective in applying it; a classic case being the late penalty against Donnacha Ryan for not releasing the ball when Duane Vermeulen hadn’t disengaged after the tackle.
Pietersen’s yellow card was also the only penalty conceded by the Boks for foul play, and quite how all three officials missed every other cheap shot and act of skulduggery was remarkable.
At one point Etzebeth punched McCarthy in the face literally a foot or two in front of the watching Steve Walsh during the Boks’ drive which led to Heaslip’s yellow card and the ensuing Pienaar try.
Sexton, for one, was clearly targeted, his first injury the result of Jannie du Plessis diving shoulder first into the Irish out-half after he had tackled Pietersen at the second attempt.
Yet, ultimately, the result was about right as the Springboks upped the ante in the second half and, try though they might, Ireland could never generate the hint of a try.
Thrice they went through lengthy phases, but whether running laterally wide or harder and straighter closer in, with Cian Healy making one astonishing carry for a prop in the last ten minutes, they couldn’t break through.
Indeed they were limited to one long-range penalty attempt by Sexton.
There will remain a nagging regret that this developing South African side were vulnerable, if not quite there for the taking, in a rusty, error-strewn first-half performance especially. But, not unexpectedly, Ireland were lacking a little ballast in the ball-carrying department without Stephen Ferris and Seán O’Brien.
The anti-climactic groan which greeted Ronan O’Gara’s chip in overtime which extinguished the last hint of hope rather summed up the evening.