The Springboks withstood a late Ireland assault to win 19-13 on Saturday and claim a 2-1 series victory, reports JON CARDINELLI at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
The match lived up to its billing as a final in that neither side dared to take too many chances with ball in hand. In the end, it was the Boks who made fewer mistakes, and the Boks who produced the game-breaking plays that swung the result and series in their favour.
Ireland looked like a side that had come to the end of a long and gruelling northern hemisphere season. They were physical at the gainline and competitive at the breakdown. Their decision-making and handling, however, left a lot to be desired. On several occasions, they let the Boks off the hook.
The Boks spent most of the first half on the back foot. They conceded a penalty at the very first breakdown. In the 11th minute, they were reduced to 14 men after fullback Willie le Roux mistimed his jump for the ball and knocked opposite number Tieran O’Halloran head over heels. Fortune was with the Boks in that the officials decided to give the Bok fullback a yellow card rather than a red.
Ireland scored seven points while Le Roux was in the sin bin. They would have scored more if not for their shoddy handling and Paddy Jackson’s missed penalty attempt from right out in front.
The Bok defence battled during the period of sanction. Ireland built through the phases, and eventually scored through No 13 Luke Marshall. The Ireland centre ran right through Elton Jantjies as if the Bok flyhalf wasn’t even there.
Jantjies did make an influential contribution in other areas, though. His option-taking was good, and the Boks as a unit produced a more accurate tactical-kicking performance on Saturday than in the two previous matches. The quality of the chasing was of a high standard, and the Boks won many an aerial battle to reclaim possession.
It was Jantjies who produced the magic play that got the Boks back into the game. On the stroke of half-time, the Bok flyhalf looked up, spotted the space out on the left wing, and cross-kicked for JP Pietersen to chase. The accuracy of the kick as well as the impeccable timing of Pietersen’s run resulted in a simple try for the hosts.
The vision and execution of Jantjies as well as the finish by Pietersen had the fans in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium leaping out of their seats and punching the air in delight. Jantjies gave them another reason to cheer when he nailed the touchline conversion, and the Boks went to the break with a 13-10 lead despite having just 30% of the possession.
Ireland threw everything they had at the Boks in the early stages of the second stanza. However, they continued to drop the ball at crucial times.
They were also thwarted on occasion by some good Bok defence. Faf de Klerk, the shortest man on the field, leaped into the air to make a timely interception when Ireland had a two-man overlap on the right wing.
The crowd began to get behind the Boks, with ‘Shosholoza’ ringing out around the ground. The Boks won a penalty outside Jantjies’s range, and Ruan Combrinck stepped up to bisect the uprights.
The Boks won another penalty from a handier range in the 68th minute, and Jantjies made no mistake. The successful attempt on goal stretched the Boks’ lead to nine points, which left Ireland to chase the game in the dying stages.
Jackson reignited Irish hopes of a win as well as a historic series victory with a penalty goal. What followed was a relentless assault on the Bok defence.
In one sequence, the visitors kept the ball for 21 phases. But then the mistake came. Ireland were penalised at the breakdown, and the partisan South African crowd voiced its relief.
The Irish were not done, though. They controlled the ball well, taking it through 20 phases. They had the Boks stretched, but then De Klerk came up with another big play to shut down the attack.
The Boks won a penalty at the ensuing breakdown, and booted the ball into the stands to bring an end to the contest. The Boks survived to claim the win, and more importantly, the series.
Springboks – Try: JP Pietersen. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalties: Jantjies (3), Ruan Combrinck.
Ireland – Try: Luke Marshall. Conversion: Paddy Jackson. Penalties: Jackson (2).
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 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 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Ireland – 15 Tieran O’Halloran, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Luke Marshall,12 Stuart Olding, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Finley Bealham, 18 Tadgh Furlong, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Matt Healy.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images