Ireland find the antidote to South Africa’s ‘slow poison’
Victor Matfield admits relentless Irish pressure ‘put us on the back foot’
Jannie Du Plessis and Duane Vermeulen on the attack for South Africa during the clash at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Patrick Bolger/Getty Images
The poison was coursing through Irish veins on 56 minutes when Jannie du Plessis’ guttural roar was picked up on Romain Poite’s microphone. Marcell Coetzee, their excellent flanker, had just piggybacked over the try line.
Finally, South Africa’s lineout maul had landed a hammer blow. The rules decreed that Handré Pollard had to kick the conversion – otherwise his ravenous forwards would have sought another lineout – and the young fly-half made it 13-10.
Remember the second Lions Test at Loftus Versfeld in 2009. Rob Kearney, Paul O’Connell and Tommy Bowe will never forget it. They were all that remained from the Irish brigade defeated on the Highveld that day.
The Springboks remained brutally relentless but this time, somehow, Ireland found an antidote to what felt like inevitability. “We call it slow poison,” said the wizardly Victor Matfield, smiling down on the hobbits with recording devices.
“Ya, the slow poison coming through. I thought the last 20 minutes we would get away with the game but I think the yellow card put us under pressure, put us on the back foot.”
Matfield undoubtedly won the lineout battle with Paul O’Connell but he lost the communication war with the finicky Frenchman (the Northampton nightmare in 2010, when Poite sin-binned O’Connell, might just have proved beneficial to Ireland on Saturday).
Matfield did complain about Irish studs and arses and heads dirtying Francois Hougaard’s ball, which was reminiscent of Munster here last month. “In these conditions the breakdown is a different animal. Also something we are not used to back in South Africa is players kicking the ball in the ruck, just trying to make it a mess. We’ll focus on that this week.”
Off the 37-year-old trudged towards Twickenham as Dr du Plessis arrived, with his esteemed second opinion, to contradict the “slow poison” theory. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” said the tighthead prop. “We saw their plan was working and we tried to get into the gut of them in the middle of the field. That’s what any team would have done in our situation.”
The wonder is if these veteran Springboks have ever dominated a game so clearly yet lost.
“A very wise man once said ‘a good scrum cannot always win you a game but a bad scrum can lose you a game.’ . . In Super Rugby we have dominated set-piece and a few ninjas go and score four tries.”
“Not angry. A bit bitter. Any loss leaves a biter taste. It’s definitely a shit feeling. If you play in a Springbok jersey you don’t want to feel this way, you want to fix it and we will.”
“They did face something that they haven’t before,” said du Plessis of his young team-mates. “Where we are from they don’t rush as much on defence. They had to make a few decisions quicker than they used to. That’s high-level sport. Your opponents will always try to do something to unsettle you. They rushed us. It is something that we are going to have to deal with.”