Damian de Allende scored a 75th-minute try as the Springboks beat Ireland 32-26 on Saturday and levelled the three-match series, reports JON CARDINELLI at Ellis Park.
The Boks trailed 19-3 at half-time, and were viciously booed by the Ellis Park crowd as they made their way down the tunnel. Less than an hour later, that same crowd was in raptures as the hosts completed an unlikely comeback.
Damian de Allende may well go down in history as the player who spared the Boks another embarrassing defeat. In the 75th minute, the Bok No 12 lined up Rhys Ruddock, powered through the tackle, and ran 20m to score. Elton Jantjies added the extras and a subsequent penalty, but it was that one play by De Allende that won the game for South Africa.
The Boks will be relieved. Ireland, who dominated for much of the contest, will be wondering how they let a victory as well as a chance to claim a historic series win slip.
Two weeks ago, the rugby world did not believe an Irish win against the Boks in South Africa was possible. Few gave Ireland a chance of winning at Newlands without Johnny Sexton, Sean O’Brien and several others.
And when Schmidt made five changes and a positional switch in the lead-up to the crunch game at Ellis Park, many thought the Ireland coach was saving his best combination for a third and decisive game in Port Elizabeth.
But on Saturday at Ellis Park, the Ireland team that started showed their class and determination. They hammered the Boks at the scrums. They sacked the Bok maul with relative ease. At the breakdowns and collisions, there was only one team in the contest for 60 minutes.
The halfback combination of Conor Murray and Paddy Jackson, who were so influential at Newlands with their decision-making and execution, had another outstanding game at Ellis Park. Jackson made a point of kicking onto Lwazi Mvovo’s wing during the first half, and a good chase by the Ireland players ensured that the visitors retrieved the ball on each occasion.
Earlier this week, Jackson decided not to join his teammates for a trip to the local lion park on the designated off-day. Instead, the Ireland flyhalf travelled to Ellis Park to practise his goal-kicking, which may have seemed unnecessary to some given his 16-point effort at Newlands in the first Test.
The sacrifice was worth it. Jackson’s accuracy was something to behold at altitude. He nailed some important goal kicks in the first half to create scoreboard pressure. His kicking out of hand was just as sharp, and the Boks battled to respond.
In the 28th minute, Jackson kicked a penalty goal from close to the left-hand touchline to stretch Ireland’s lead to 12-3. At this point in the game, the Bok players on the field turned to look at each other as if they couldn’t believe what was happening.
The crowd at Ellis Park began to grow restless. The key moment of the first half arrived when Mvovo dropped yet another high ball, and Ireland regathered and took play deep into South African territory. Devin Toner drove over from close range, and Jackson added the extras.
When the whistle sounded to signal the end of the half and a 19-3 advantage for Ireland, the Ellis Park crowd booed the Boks. The reaction was fair given the Boks’ poor physical and tactical play over the first 40 minutes. During that period, Jantjies missed two shots at goal.
Two hometown heroes gave the Boks some hope in the second stanza, and the crowd certainly appreciated their efforts.
Willie le Roux unleashed Ruan Combrinck, on for Mvovo, on the right wing. Combrinck showed his speed and then his power to barge through the final defender. When Warren Whiteley scored in the 64th minute, Ellis Park erupted.
Ireland did manage to score again via a lineout maul. Every time the Boks looked like getting back in the game, the visitors responded with points of their own.
That said, the Boks fought to remain in the contest. Pieter-Steph du Toit scored in the 70th minute, and Jantjies’s conversion reduced the deficit to four points. If the Boks could win territory and control possession in the final 10 minutes, they would stand a chance of winning the match and saving the series.
The crowd spurred the Boks on with chants of ‘Ole, ole, ole’. Evidently, it lifted the Boks. They made their way downfield. They clattered into Ireland’s defence.
And then, it was left to one man to make the decisive play. De Allende ran through Ruddock, and the Ellis Park crowd already started to celebrate as if the result was in the bag.
The Boks did enough to control possession in the final minutes, and Jantjies added a further penalty. It brought an end to a dramatic game of rugby.
Both teams will go into the decisive third Test with some confidence. The Boks have won their first match under new coach Allister Coetzee. Ireland got within touching distance of a historic series win. While they didn’t get there in Johannesburg, there will be another chance for them to do so in Port Elizabeth.
Springboks – Tries: Ruan Combrinck, Warren Whiteley, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Damian de Allende. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3). Penalties: Jantjies (2).
Ireland – Tries: Devin Toner, Jamie Heaslip. Conversions: Paddy Jackson (2). Penalties: Paddy Jackson (4).
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane,18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Ruan Combrinck.
Ireland – 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Robbie Henshaw,12 Stuart Olding, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Rhys Ruddock, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Tadgh Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Tieran O’Halloran.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images