Series win slips from Ireland’s grasp in South Africa

Late Springbok fightback denies Ireland historic series win to set up decider next Saturday


South Africa 32 Ireland 26

For the best of an hour, Ireland had played so well that they were fully worthy of their 26-10 lead and were within 20 minutes of backing up last week’s historic first win on South African soil with an even more remarkable series win. In truth, while Ireland may have been smart and brave, they probably didn’t create an awful lot and the Springboks’ power play in the final quarter was something to behold.

But it is then, supposedly, that the effects of altitude kick in and perhaps that, combined with the Springboks finding a spring in their step, led to Irish players falling off tackles in a manner that had not been witnessed over the previous 140 minutes of this series.

Ultimately, three tries in a dozen minutes after the hour mark steered the Springboks from the decidedly choppy waters of a 26-10 deficit to winners. Dramatically, if not too surprisingly, the series will now go down to the wire in Port Elizabeth next Saturday.

Ireland’s tactics were, typically, to play the game in the right areas of the pitch and even then take to the skies if their recycling game was not making any inroads.

Paddy Jackson had particular joy in targeting Lwazi Mvovo in the air, for the Boks left winger was all at sea when the high balls rained down on him. The ploy eventually yielded a seven-pointer which helped Ireland into a scarcely believable 19-3 lead.

The tactic of aiming to the Boks’ left corner also had the bonus of making it more difficult to execute an exit strategy, given Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies and Willie le Roux are all left-footers.

In defence, it was clear that one of the immediate effects of Andy Farrell’s addition to the coaching ticket is that the Irish players target the ball in the tackle. Not not only was their tackle execution even better than last week, it yielded a couple of turnovers when the Boks were briefly gathering heads of steam and running hard into contact.

One always felt that if Ireland could douse South Africa’s early fire that they might then expose a certain degree of inexperience, lack of leadership and mental fragility. And so it proved, and in addition to this, there was an underlying lack of confidence in the wake of last week’s defeat. This is perhaps one of the flip sides of a swaggering belief in their own right to win, especially at home to countries like Ireland.

In any event, the Boks’ high quotient of turnovers, again, was compounded by misplaced passes, knock-ons and crossed wires. Indeed, some of the Boks’ basic handling skills, or more to the point basic handling errors, were ill-fitting of their jerseys in the first-half and even into the second.

But the tide had begun to turn a little in the third quarter, and helped by a huge impact off their bench, the increased volume of their supporters and a new-found level of self-belief, in the final quarter the home side were rampant. For a wilting Ireland, it was as if each minute took an age.

After a decent version, for once, of Ireland’s Call away from home and before the ‘nkosi sikelel’ iafrika’ was belted out with gusto, the game kicked off to chants of Ole Ole Ole, and the early exchanges kept the home crowd in good voice.

South Africa struck first when Tadhg Furlong was pinged as a scrum wheeled and buckled on the tight-head side. Elton Janjies, on his first test start and on his home ground, landed the penalty from just inside halfway and, given the altitude, with about 10 metres to spare.

But that was about as good as it got for the Boks in the first half.

Quinn Roux relieved the ensuing wave of attacks by targeting the ball in the tackle and tellingly, when Willie le Roux stepped in as first receiver and kicked aimlessly down the throat of Andrew Trimble, only eight minutes in, the boos echoed around the ground. It was unclear if this was a commentary on the home crowd’s dissatisfaction with their full-back or their team in general.

When Francois Louw was pinged for not rolling away, Paddy Jackson levelled with a fine 45-metre penalty. It was a measure of the Boks’ limited ambition that from a lineout on the Irish ten metre line that they elected for ball form Eben Etzebeth at the front and after one phase Jantjies sent a bomb toward Payne outside the 22.

Le Roux was then pinged for playing the ball on the deck and when Louw was again penalised by the impressive 31-year-old Australian referee Angus Gardner, to another chorus of booing, Jackson made it 6-3.

In attempting to choke tackle le Rous, Murray was then penalised for not rolling away, and the Boks opted to go to the corner. But their maul was held rock stead by the Irish pack, some feather in their cap, before Robbie Henshaw ripped the ball from Damian de Allende in the tackle.

To the pack’s collective credit again, they then put together a huge scrum for Jackson to tap over a third penalty, this time to a stunned silence.

Ireland’s confidence was growing visibly. Trimble, Stuart Olding and Payne each made good carries, the latter two after dummy wraps to Jackson before straightening. Payne then offloaded to Jackson and JP Pietersen blatantly played the ball on the deck after the tackle. Jackson duly made it 12-3.

Jantjies struck the upright from 45 metres when Trimble was penalised for playing the ball on the deck, and when Toner superbly reclaimed the bouncing rebound only to be pinged for not releasing, Jantjies missed a proverbial sitter from less than 30 metres.

Within a minute, Jackson was targeting the hugely vulnerable Mvovo again, and when he missed the ball Trimble skilfully kept it in play when flicking it infield, thus taking Mtovo and Jantjies out of the game. Payne, in one of several classy touches by this stage already, gathered on the run, beat a man and when Trimble effected a thorough clean-out, Murray fed Ruddock who twisted in the tackle and offloaded superbly for Toner to plunge for the line.

Jackson converted for an improbable 19-3 lead, and even pushed a 45 metre penalty wide from the left for what could have been an even bigger half-time buffer.

Allister Coetzee’s response was to bring on local back-rower Warren Whiteley for Duane Vermeulen and another home player, Ruan Combrinck, for the hapless Mvovo. The changes helped the Boks begin the second-half with a renewed intensity borne out of their plight.

Initially, Ireland kept them at bay, helped by Kolisi spilling the ball and another big Irish scrum. Jackson had the legs but not the accuracy form fully five metres inside his own half, before Rory Best held up Kolisi in the tackle for Henderson and co to effect a choke tackle and another turnover.

But Ireland were being stretched, and were indebted to a poor pass by de Klerk for Olding to complete a fine tackle on le Roux. With the Boks’ bench making more and more of an impact, le Roux fielded a long punt by Murray and lined up Jack McGrath in the green line to dummy and break through. His try-scoring pass to Combrinck allowed him crash through Jackson’s covering tackle. Jantjies converted from the touchline.

Ireland were not done, though, and Tadhg Furlong promptly charged down de Klerk’s attempted box kick and was tugged back by the scrum-half. Ireland elected for the corner and a well-executed move off the training ground, as the forwards peeled around to the front, saw Heaslip score. Jackson even added his touchline conversion to restore Ireland’s lead to 26-10.

But Cumbrinck was inflicting significant damage on the right wing, Piertersen likewise on the left, and after the former burst through Payne’s tackle on his wing, du Toit and Pietersen had forays before Whitelely stepped inside Trimble’s tackle and took Ruddock’s to score. Again Jantjies converted.

To cacophonous roars now, the Boks were running hard and straight across the full width of the pitch. Worryingly, Irish players were suddenly falling off tackles. Pietersen did some more damage on the left, leading to an attacking line-out, before Pieter-Steph du Toit burst through Ruddock and Jackson under the posts. Suddenly it was a four-point game with 10 minutes remaining.

Ireland’s last chance of adding a buffer ended with crossing in midfield off an attacking scrum, and a lost lineout. The Boks sniffed blood now, and with Ireland again stretched and Henshaw receiving treatment for an injury which would see him helped off, de Allende slipped out of Murray’s tackle and then Ruddock’s to score by the posts.

Jantjies tapped over the conversions and then, to exultant celebrations, kicked the final penalty after the hooter had gone. The momentum is this series is with them now.

SOUTH AFRICA: Willie le Roux (Cell C Sharks); JP Pietersen (Cell C Sharks), Lionel Mapoe (Emirates Lions), Damian de Allende (DHL Stormers), Lwazi Mvovo (Cell C Sharks); Elton Jantjies (Emirates Lions), Faf de Klerk (Emirates Lions); Tendai Mtawarira (Cell C Sharks), Adriaan Strauss (Vodacom Bulls) (capt), Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers), Eben Etzebeth (DHL Stormers), Pieter-Steph du Toit (DHL Stormers), Francois Louw (Bath), Siya Kolisi (DHL Stormers), Duane Vermeulen (Toulon). Replacements: Warren Whiteley (Emirates Lions) for Vermeulen, Ruan Combrinck (Emirates Lions) for Mvovo (both half-time), Julian Redelinghuys (Emirates Lions) for Malherbe (47 mins), Trevor Nyakane (Vodacom Bulls) for Mtawarira (52 mins), Franco Mostert (Emirates Lions) for Kolisi (68 mins), Morne Steyn (Stade Francais) for Jantjies (60-63 mins). Not used _ Bongi Mbonambi (DHL Stormers), Rudy Paige (Vodacom Bulls).

IRELAND: Jared Payne (Ulster); Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Connacht), Stuart Olding (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Craig Gilroy (Bangor/Ulster); Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt), Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), Quinn Roux (Galwegians/Connacht), Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster). Replacements: Sean Reidy (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) for Ruddock (43-50 mins), Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster) for Roux (50 mins), Finlay Bealham (Buccaneers/Connacht) for Furlong (60 mins), Richardt Strauss (Old Wesley/Leinster) for Best, Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) for McGrath (both 67 mins), Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster) for Henshaw, Tiernan O’Halloran (Buccaneers/Connacht) for Payne (both 77 mins), Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) for Murray (78 mins).

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)

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