Ireland handed the Springboks a physical and tactical-kicking lesson in their record-breaking 38-3 win on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI at the Aviva Stadium.
So much for turning the corner. So much for that rousing physical and tactical showing against the All Blacks serving as sign of things to come in Europe.
What the Boks served up at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday was an embarrassment. Where was the smash-mouth rugby we saw at Newlands last month? Where was the intent and accuracy that had the All Blacks scrambling over the course of those 80 minutes?
The 35-point defeat in Dublin marked South Africa’s heaviest loss to Ireland. Not for the first time over the past two years, Allister Coetzee’s Boks have made history for the wrong reasons.
The sight of Eben Etzebeth being bumped off by his opposite number Iain Henderson said it all. It’s not often that the Bok captain goes backwards in the collision. In one instant during the first half, Etzebeth was knocked off his feet as the Ireland No 4 bulldozed his way through the Bok defence.
The tone was set in the first minute, though, when Ireland debutant Bundee Aki smashed Coenie Oosthuizen two metres behind the gainline. The tighthead was injured in the tackle and subsequently forced to leave the field.
Many expected Ireland to lack precision in the opening stages, given their four-month absence from the international game. Their attack certainly stuttered, with several passes missing the mark.
The accuracy and intensity of their defence, however, was world-class, as was the tactical kicking of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton.
The Boks highlighted the high-ball threat earlier in the week. They were expecting it. How then did their wingers and fullback fail the garryowen exam at the Aviva Stadium?
The backline spent much of the contest on the back foot. The Boks battled at the scrums, conceding free kicks and penalties which allowed the opposition to win territory and accumulate points through the boot of Sexton.
That said, the backs must be held accountable for some truly amateurish decision-making and execution.
There were times when the Boks had the Ireland defence stretched. Damian de Allende and Andries Coetzee took turns in kicking the ball away aimlessly. The handling display on an admittedly wet night in Dublin was woefully poor.
To say that Ross Cronjé and Elton Jantjies have been inconsistent this season would be an understatement. On Saturday, Jantjies was at his frenetic worst, camping in the pocket and shovelling the ball on while the Ireland defence advanced. As was the case at Newlands last month, Cronjé’s box-kicking was wasteful and his passing laboured.
Neither Courtnall Skosan, Dillyn Leyds, nor Coetzee had played a Test in northern hemisphere conditions prior to this match. It was a gamble selecting such an inexperienced back three for a contest of this nature, and one that certainly cost the Boks dearly on the day.
Skosan and Leyds battled to secure the high bombs deployed by Conor Murray and Sexton. The left winger was exposed on defence several times.
Indeed, it was the kick on Skosan in the 25th minute that resulted in the breakthrough for Ireland. Skosan dropped the ball cold, and Ireland – through winger Andrew Conway – gathered it and scored in the right-hand corner to the delight of the partisan Irish crowd.
That try allowed Ireland to take control of the match. The Boks began to panic. Etzebeth turned down a penalty in front of the posts in favour of kick to the touchline. Ireland handled the Bok maul with ease, and then CJ Stander won the breakdown turnover that stopped the visitors’ momentum completely.
Ireland went to the break with a 14-0 lead. Jantjies brought up the Boks’ first points in the 44th minute when he goalled a penalty. South Africa applied the pressure thereafter, but failed to breach the Ireland defence to any telling agree.
Sexton restored the 14-point advantage for the hosts in the 57th minute. Ireland did not play particularly well during this period. That said, the Boks simply weren’t good enough to punish Ireland’s mistakes.
The introduction of flyhalf Handré Pollard on the hour did lend the Boks more kicking and ball-carrying options. But by then the Boks were chasing the game.
Ireland finished powerfully. The hosts cut the defence on the right-hand side, and then after taking the ball through a couple more phases, scored through Rhys Ruddock, The conversion by Sexton stretched the margin to 21 points.
Ireland increased their lead in the dying stages when Rob Herring and Jacob Stockdale crossed the line, following a successful lineout maul. Those two late tries ensured that Ireland claimed their biggest-ever win over South Africa.
The result sees the Boks extending their winless streak to five. The last time they won a match was when they beat Argentina in Salta in August. They are still yet to win in the northern hemisphere under the current coaching staff.
The Boks, and indeed Coetzee, will be under pressure to bounce back in subsequent weeks. Three more performances like the one served up in Dublin, and the Boks could be heading back to South Africa with four straight defeats.
Ireland – Tries: Andrew Conway, Rhys Ruddock, Rob Herring, Jacob Stockdale. Conversions: Johnny Sexton, Joey Carbery (2). Penalties: Sexton (4).
Springboks – Penalty: Elton Jantjies.
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 James Ryan, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Darren Sweetnam.
Springboks – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Francois Louw, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth (c), 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Francois Venter.
Photo: Brendan Moran/Getty Images