IRELAND 19 SOUTH AFRICA 16
For those who like their rugby matches with a bit of everything, this sure had it all.
One sensed that the crowd took their time to grow into it, but ultimately everyone went into the night knowing they’d seen a special, thunderous Test match. Ireland had dug deep into their squad and reserves of character.
For those who want to be provided with free-flowing rugby and tries, the first-half might not have been especially entertaining, but in its own way that 56-minute period was a compelling battle of styles and wills.
The Springboks tried to impose their lineout maul by going to the corner four times and four times were met by a virtually immovable and tightly-knit Irish pack. This, along with an unyielding Irish scrum, was the rock upon which Ireland’s win was built.
Meanwhile, the Boks successfully targeted the Irish rucks and flew up to cut off the edges, although with a little more accuracy in the pass from Johnny Sexton and Jimmy O’Brien, or if Robert Baloucoune had been flatter to the captain’s skip pass, Ireland would have found those edges.
The net effect was that the two teams effectively cancelled each other out, but Ireland resolved to keep probing and in the first 10 minutes of the second half broke this game open with two tries which were brilliant in their contrasting ways.
Brave in possession and braver in defence, this Irish team did enough to show they can’t be bullied by bigger, forward-orientated teams and then just about withstood a ferocious Springboks’ fightback, which also gave the lie to the notion that South Africa can’t play running rugby with width.
To the credit of Jacques Nienaber, the good cop in the partnership atop the Boks, he could not have been more generous or fair in his assessment, while Siya Kolisi also rejected an opportunity by a South African reporter to apportion blame to the officials
“No, I’ll never blame the ref. They said they checked, so it was checked. There’s nothing more I can do. I thought he was fair. Obviously, we’ll go look as a team but it can’t be an excuse. I thought Ireland played really well and they deserved the victory today.”
It’s true that among things, the officials missed Johnny Sexton’s forward inside pass to Mack Hansen in the build up to the first try, when Sexton was also nearly cut in half by Jesse Kriel.
But, contrary to media claims that a short pass by Andrew Porter to Bealham in the prelude to Ireland’s second try was forward, that simply wasn’t the case.
Steven Kitshoff and Ox Nche, a fabulous prospect, continually scrummaged at an angle in an illegal attempt to target Finlay Bealham after he replaced Tadhg Furling during the interval, for which they were rightly pinged three times.
Maybe Rassie Erasmus will dissect the game and compile another video for the benefit of World Rugby and the world of rugby.
The officials also missed Eben Etzebeth knocking the ball forward when under pressure in their fifth penalty to the corner at the end of the first half.
As for the ensuing offside call by Mathieu Raynal from which Cheslin Kolbe made it 6-all on half-time, freeze frame the video as Jaden Hendrikse passes the ball off the deck and Ireland have a perfectly formed straight line with simply no evidence of anyone being ahead of the hindmost foot. Oh, and of course by then Kolbe should have been off the pitch for the rest of the game rather than for 10 minutes.
Despite Sexton being temporarily out of the game after that Kriel hit (on top of one by Damian de Allende when releasing Garry Ringrose in the first half), Ireland showed what an adaptable, all-court team they are in the build-up to the first try and execution of the second.
Jimmy O’Brien made inroads off Hansen’s offload, as did the ever-lively Hansen off Jamison Gibson-Park’s no-look behind-the-back pass, while Hansen, Hugo Keenan and Garry Ringrose each stepped in as first receiver.
This earned the penalty with which Sexton opted to kick to the corner rather than take a routine three-pointer in the game’s pivotal moment. For the Irish pack to augment four defensive mauls with a try off one of their own was some feather in their collective caps.
As the maul arrowed toward the corner flag the only person in the entire stadium that knew Josh van der Flier had grounded the ball a centimetre inside touch-in-goal was the flanker himself.
The second try emanated from Keenan leaping to catch a Kolbe bomb and after Gibson-Park’s box kick gave Robert Baloucoune something to chase, Caelan Doris brilliantly retrieved and kept a loose ball in play for the supporting van der Flier.
From the recycle, James Ryan stepped in as scrumhalf before Porter and Bealham worked the ball back to Gibson-Park. Spotting the shooters, Gibson-Park took two defenders out of the game with a show and go, before perfect straight lines and right to left passes by Tadhg Beirne, Keenan and O’Brien gave Hansen a run-in to the corner.
Check out the ruck work by Ringrose too. The numbers on the jerseys were irrelevant. This was heads-up rugby beyond the remit of the world champions.
Of course, the win comes with caveats. One wonders if Damian Willemse will ever wear the Boks’ 10 jersey again. He and Kolbe left five eminently kickable points opportunities behind and the improvement when Willie le Roux came on as a second playmaker ensured they were transformed, demonstrating in their desperation to claw the game back that they can play rugby.
Still, Ireland never trailed on the scoreboard and the win was all the more creditable for it coming against a Boks’ side who threw the proverbial kitchen sink at them.
Scoring sequence: 3 mins Sexton pen 3-0; 9 mins Willemse pen 3-3; 36 mins Sexton pen 6-3; 40 (+ 1) mins Kolbe pen 6-6; (half-time 6-6); 46 mins van der Flier try 11-6; 50 mins Hansen try 16-6; 68 mins Mostert try 16-11; 74 mins Sexton pen 19-11; 76 mins Arendse try 19-16.
Ireland: Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD); Robert Baloucoune (Ulster/Enniskillen), Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor), Mack Hansen (Connacht); Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College, capt), Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen); Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD), Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf), James Ryan (Leinster/UCD), Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne), Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution),Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD), Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College). Replacements: Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster/Naas) for (27 mins), Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) for Murray (36 mins), Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) for Furlong (half-time), Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) for Sheehan, Kieran Treadwell (Ulster/Ballymena) for Beirne (both 63 mins), Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) for (68 mins), Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) for Porter (69 mins), Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) for Sexton (77 mins).
South Africa: Cheslin Kolbe (Toulon); Kurt-Lee Arendse (Vodacom Bulls), Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles), Damian de Allende (Wild Knights), Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks); Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers), Jaden Hendrikse (Cell C Sharks); Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers), Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears), Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers), Eben Etzebeth (Cell C Sharks), Lood de Jager (Wild Knights), Siya Kolisi (captain, Cell C Sharks), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz), Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers). Replacements: Franco Mostert (Honda Heat) for de Jager (35 mins), Vincent Koch (unattached) for Malherbe (46 mins), Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles) for Hendrikse (52 mins), Deon Fourie (DHL Stormers) for Weisse, Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz) for Arendse (both 54 mins), Bongi Mbonambi (Cell C Sharks) for Marx, Ox Nche (Cell C Sharks) for Kitshoff (both 57 mins), Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs) for du Toit, Arendse for Mapimpi (both 64 mins). Sinbinned: Kolbe (17-27 mins).
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia).