'It just seems we got sucked into a dead game of rugby'
IRISH REACTION:Distilling two halves into a couple of 10-minute spells may stretch analytical norms but if pivotal phases in a match mean anything, South Africa scored 10 points and Ireland scored none when the opposition had a man in the sin bin.
“In the second half I’d to lead by example but I didn’t, getting a yellow,” said the binned Irish captain Jamie Heaslip. “I’m better served on the field than off it and I put my hand up.”
Heaslip was a contrite captain but coach Declan Kidney takes a worldly view on such matters and refereeing decisions are one of his uncontrollables. Springbok captain Jean de Villiers saw the two segments as influencing the outcome, while Kidney saw it as a tough call in a bad run where the gods are proving harsh judges.
“He (Wayne Barnes) said we attempted to bring down the maul and he decided as it was the second or third attempt that we had to go to the bin for that, all in the one play. So he picked him out for that one.”
Perhaps a winger, JP Pietersen for a number eight Heaslip are not even measures in a match where muscle counted but South Africa wrung the life out of the game, then squeezed their win from a contest that laboured to breathe.
Whether Ireland had one line break or two and the Springboks one line break or none seems academic. The overall result was a suffocated match, particularly in the second half, where the sparks of creativity in both camps perished under collective limitations. Why that happened was a mystery even to some of the players.
“I don’t know. They’re a good side, they know how to squeeze teams and put the muscle on – play how they want to play with their forward pack dominating and stuff like that,” said Irish fullback Simon Zebo.
“It just seems we got sucked into a dead game of rugby. Those bruising runners off the 10 and off nine. It is as if they slow down the game a little and then sucked us into doing that as well when we have the ball and not playing the way we did in the first half, which was territory and just getting ball wide and just running hard.”
How to avoid a ‘dead game’ or, stepping into one may need some video attention over the next two weeks before Argentina arrive. Ireland had the match within their grasp over 40 minutes but then fell into the black hole Zebo describes.
“I thought we did very well in staying out of it in the first half, we messed up on one or two opportunities where we had overlaps and things and just didn’t take them,” added the fullback.
“We were looking to react in the second half but the opportunities just didn’t come. The first half we were able to see we missed out on a lot of chances but, I don’t know, it is something the coaches will have to look at and we will have to look at as a playing group.
“They know exactly how to play and where to play, but I just think second half South Africa did a very good job of squeezing us into their game. They put the muscle on and we just struggled to react to it collectively as a group and we just can’t afford to let that happen again.”
Zebo is part of the new Irish look. While it’s not quite post O’Connell and O’Driscoll, there is a hunger about the younger players to make an impression and move on to create their own generation. While their limitations are evident, the work-in-progress isn’t misty eyed for the missing ‘legends’.
Tommy Bowe straddles both eras and might now be considered a wise head. “Yeah. It’s our time, without a doubt,” said Bowe. “We’ve talked about that it is our time. There’s a lot of experience in the team there, a lot of young fellas coming through. The guys who are missing, they have had their chance, they have taken their chance. When they’ve had it and whenever an opportunity comes to step into their boots it’s about stepping up to the plate . . . .
“I think a lot of boys did that today. To see the first caps coming on was very positive. Having the injuries that we’ve had is tough but it’s a great opportunity for young fellas coming through. I think in the first half we definitely looked up to it. It’s just frustrating to give away those 10 points when we did.”
These last two months has been about trying to compete with New Zealand and now the ’Boks. Laced in the disappointment is the issue of regeneration and the blooding of the likes of Zebo, Peter O’Mahony and Mike McCarthy. If that’s the case and the next generation learn from it then perhaps the result is excusable.