December 3, 2023

Ireland 19

South Africa 16

THE MOST DELICIOUS part of this for Ireland is that they truly fronted up to the Springboks in the areas that made Rassie Erasmus’ men world champions.

The Irish pack took scrum penalties off the Boks front row, even after Tadhg Furlong had been forced off injured. The Irish defence stood firm as the seemingly endless list of gigantic South African ball-carrier thundered at them. The Irish maul drove this famous Springboks pack over their own tryline, and stopped them going forward several times.

Mack Hansen celebrates Ireland’s brilliant second-half try.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

This was the definition of a brutal battle. Four players were forced off injured by half-time alone – Stuart McCloskey, Conor Murray, Lood de Jager, and Tadhg Furlong. The hits were shuddering from way up in the stands. This was physicality of the highest level imaginable.

And Ireland were able for it. It’s three years since Rassie Erasmus’ suggestion that Ireland were “softies” but no one can question their mettle now. Paul O’Connell’s pack were immense here.

The icing on the cake of this victory was something that has become familiar with this team – a try of delightful attacking quality that featured forwards and backs interlinking with some stunning handling. Left wing Mack Hansen finished that sweeping move soon after man of the match Josh van der Flier had brilliantly finished the maul score. In the 10 minutes after half-time, Ireland shifted from a 6-6 draw to a 16-6 lead. 

It was the decisive passage in the game but there is no doubting that this was a deserved victory for Andy Farrell’s men, who kept the good times rolling after their series success in New Zealand over the summer. They thoroughly justified their status as the number one-ranked team in the world.

We have been here before with Irish rugby soon before a World Cup. Memories aren’t that short. But this must count as a big psychological step towards that tournament given that Ireland will meet the Boks in what looks like their key pool game next year. It helps to know that they have this kind of performance in them.

It was edgy in the endgame as the South Africans produced a desperate late effort to rescue it, sending Irish hearts into mouths with two tries, but their lack of a frontline place-kicker was costly and Farrell’s men were deservedly able to close out the win on a magic night in Dublin, where the crowd in the Aviva Stadium was brilliant.

There were standout performances across the pitch, with van der Flier typically prominent, Caelan Doris superb at number eight, James Ryan physical in the second row, Hugo Keenan assured in his first game since New Zealand, Jimmy O’Brien excellent on debut at outside centre, and Finlay Bealham and Jamison Gibson-Park also influential off the bench.

This is a group of confident, world-class Ireland players who are taking important steps along the way towards the World Cup. That tournament remains the big goal, but Johnny Sexton and co. can enjoy tonight.

Garry Ringrose carries for Ireland.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland were 3-0 up by the third minute as a deflected Murray box kick was regathered by Garry Ringrose and Damian de Allende failed to roll clear at the breakdown inside the Boks 22, allowing Sexton a straightforward shot at goal.

Tadhg Beirne lost the restart into touch to give the visitors an attacking platform, with James Ryan handing them a penalty advantage by collapsing the ensuing maul, but Ireland’s defence stood firm in a brutal exchange over the next few phases. The Boks went back to a new offside penalty under the posts and out-half Damian Willemse levelled the score.

McCloskey was prominent over the following minutes, an explosive carry in midfield following swiftly by him combining with Caelan Doris for a crucial breakdown turnover in the Irish 22 after Murray had knocked-on under pressure from Jasper Wiese as the lifted the ball from the breakdown.

Kolbe was sent to the bin in the 17th minute and it could have been a red card as he tipped Mack Hansen over in a double tackle with Pieter-Steph du Toit. Georgian referee Nika Amashukeli felt the landing point was Hansen’s arm and opted for the yellow, much to the displeasure of the home crowd.

Ireland weren’t able to turn the 10-minute numerical advantage into any further points, though, as Makazole Mapimpi hammered Hugo Keenan in the South African 22 to spark a counter-ruck turnover, then Sexton being penalised for a high tackle on de Allende. Willemse should have slotted that shot at goal but missed to the right of the posts.  

Conor Murray was among the first-half injuries.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland’s pack then had to produce a big maul stop in the left corner, with Lood de Jager pinged for going off his feet at the breakdown two phases later in sight of the Irish tryline. Relief again.

The home side lost McCloskey to his shoulder injury coming towards the half-hour mark, O’Brien on for his Test debut, and though Ireland then produced back-to-back errors, Dan Sheehan soon came close to the opening try as he blocked down Willemse, nudged the ball into the Boks’ in-goal and outpaced Willemse but just knocked on as he looked to dot down. 

Just before he was forced off injured, the centurion Murray made a sniping break off an Irish lineout, the subsequent pressure seeing Frans Malherbe make an off-the-ball tackle that allowed Sexton to nudge his team 6-3 ahead.

Murray departed in pain at the same time as Springboks lock Lood de Jager, then Ireland had to deal with more pressure in the closing two minutes of the half. A penalty concession from Peter O’Mahony at the lineout gave the Boks a five-metre platform but Ryan managed to steal the South African throw. He was lucky as he made contact with Eben Etzebeth’s arm rather than the ball.

Furlong did superbly to get out of the in-goal area and O’Brien cleared to touch but the Boks came again, captain Siya Kolisi running through van der Flier and Ireland getting caught offside. Fullback Cheslin Kolbe took over the kicking duties to make it 6-6 at the break.

Dan Sheehan went close to scoring in the first half.

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

With Furlong failing to return from the half-time break, there were worries for Ireland but his replacement Finlay Bealham made a superb start as he won a penalty off Steven Kitshoff at his first scrum.

Ireland put together a good passage off attack off the next lineout, O’Brien making a scurrying half-break in midfield before Gibson-Park’s clever inside pass allowed Hansen to make a big surge into the Boks’ 22, where Malherbe was caught offside.

Ireland made a huge call turning down the easy three points and instead going into the left corner, from where they produced a stunningly snappy maul drive around Peter O’Mahony’s lineout take, with van der Flier delivering a brilliant finish just inches from the touchline. TMO Stuart Terheege confirmed the score to a rapturous roar.

And just three minutes later, Ireland produced a delightful turnover score. It was sparked by Doris snaffling the ball as it bobbled out of a Boks breakdown near the right touchline close to their 10-metre line. His offload off the ground to van der Flier was brilliant.

On the next phase, Ryan, Porter and Bealham did superbly to shift the ball infield to Gibson-Park, whose pace took him through a big gap. He was calm in behind the defence, passing to Beirne, who in turn found Keenan. With space screaming on the left, Keenan and O’Brien kept their cool to send Hansen scorching over.

Sexton’s conversion from wide on the left missed again but Ireland had a 16-6 advantage.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Bealham continued to work hard at scrum time, helping Ireland to two more penalties there, with another massive maul stop in between as the Boks looked for momentum in their 22.

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The much-vaunted Boks bench was in play by now and replacement back row Kwagga Smith came up with a big break on a quick-tap penalty, forcing Ireland into a major defensive scramble. The South Africans had a big overlap to their right but Etzebeth failed to pass first time, then Willemse knocked on when the ball was belatedly and inaccurately swung wide by sub prop Ox Nché.

But it always felt like the Boks would find a way back withing touching distance and it arrived in the 68th minute. Ireland initially did superbly to prevent Jesse Kriel and Kolbe from scoring in their left corner after a clever Willemse grubber, but the Boks recycled and swung wide to the left. As they returned back into midfield, replacement fullback Willie le Roux’s pass sent sub lock Franco Mostert bursting into space and he stretched out to score.

Kolbe missed the very kickable conversion, though, again underlining the absence of a frontline kicker and Ireland still had a 16-11 lead. 

Down the other end a few minutes later, Sexton made no mistake with a more difficult penalty shot from out on the left. Ireland had the breathing room of an eight-point advnantage with six minutes to go. 

And still, the Boks weren’t finished. They fought their way back into the Irish 22 and Etzebeth popped a lovely offload over the head of Keenan to send Kurt-Lee Arendse over in the left corner. Again, Kolbe missed off the tee and Ireland led by three with three minutes left. 

The tension was sickening for the home crowd but they found their voice with a big rendition of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ as Ireland won a penalty, went down the right, and closed out a thrilling Test from the resulting lineout.

Ireland scorers:

Try: Josh van der Flier, Mack Hansen

Conversion: Johnny Sexton [0 from 2]

Penalties: Johnny Sexton [3 from 3]

South Africa scorers:

TryFranco Mostert, Kurt-Lee Arendse

Conversion: Cheslin Kolbe [0 from 2]

Penalties: Damian Willemse [1 from 2], Cheslin Kolbe [1 from 1]

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan; Robert Baloucoune, Garry Ringrose, Stuart McCloskey (Jimmy O’Brien ’27), Mack Hansen; Johnny Sexton (Joey Carbery ’77), Conor Murray (Jamison Gibson Park ’35); Andrew Porter (Cian Healy ’67), Dan Sheehan (Rob Herring ’64), Tadhg Furlong (Finlay Bealham ’40), Tadhg Beirne (Kieran Treadwell ’64), James Ryan; Peter O’Mahony (Jack Conan ’69), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

SOUTH AFRICA: Cheslin Kolbe (yellow card ’17 to ’27); Kurt-Lee   (Willie le Roux ’53), Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi (Kurt-Lee Arendse ’64; Damian Willemse, Jaden Hendrikse (Faf de Klerk ’52); Steven Kitshoff (Ox Nché ’57), Malcolm Marx (Bongi Mbonambi ’57), Frans Malherbe (Vincent Koch ’46); Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager (Franco Mostert ’35); Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Deon Fourie ’63), Jasper Wiese (Kwagga Smith ’52).

Referee: Nika Amashukeli [Georgia].

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