Ireland claim Springbok hat-trick

30th Nov 2009, 09:21

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Ireland hold off South Africa

Ireland hold off South Africa

Ireland claimed a hat-trick of wins over South Africa with a well-deserved 15-10 victory in an enthralling Test match in Dublin on Saturday.

Ireland claimed a hat-trick of wins over South Africa with a well-deserved 15-10 victory in an enthralling Test match in Dublin on Saturday.

In an international match built up to the highest of standards, the 80 minutes played in the blinding mist at Croke Park was as tough and physical as you would expect from these two rugby heavyweights.

There was no love lost between the Six Nations and Tri-Nations champions, as both sides threw everything at each other. But it was the South Africans that were left to do the dirty dishes afterwards, after succumbing to their fourth defeat on tour.

Ireland refused to be bullied by the brutal Boks and tackled their way to a well-earned victory over the world champions, who head back home with their reputation taking a small knock backwards.

Having led 10-6 at the break, South Africa were kept scoreless in the second half and watched helplessly as Irish fly-half Jonathan Sexton slotted over three match-winning penalties to seal the deal for his country.

The visitors had a chance to end their tour on a high in the final act of the game, but just could not bring to bear the necessary energy and team-work as they stumbled to another defeat on European soil.

In bitterly cold conditions, South Africa defended bravely but continued to lose badly in the possession and territory stakes. The Springboks tried hard to pull it out of the fire with a try, but just did not have the depth or variation to break through.

Surprisingly, it was at the line-out that the Springboks struggled. The influence of Ireland assistant coach Gert Smal, who just two years ago was working with John Smit and Victor Matfield, was patent as the Irish disrupted the Bok feed regularly.

If not for the Boks' dominance in other areas and the visitors' heroic defence, Ireland may have led at half-time. But Sexton landed five of his seven kicks to justify his selection ahead of record scorer Ronan O'Gara, that completed an unbeaten month for the Six Nations champions.

The Springboks, who last won in the Emerald Isle in 2000, scored the only try of the game through flanker Schalk Burger. Although the Irish struggled to get a try of their own, their pressure on the green and gold attack was enough to keep Sexton potting over the necessary points.

South Africa can consider themselves lucky to have kept fifteen men on the field for the entire game as their discipline crumbled under pressure, gifting Ireland two thirds of possession and three quarters of the territory.

Sexton's counterpart, Morne Steyn, missed several kicks in his most hesitant performance of the season and gave away a crucial 48th-minute penalty with a high tackle to make it 9-10 to the hosts.

Lock Andries Bekker was then lucky to stay on the field when he dropped his knee and forearm on Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery. Sexton struck the resulting penalty to put Ireland 12-10 in front.

South Africa's other second row, Victor Matfield, was then called for not releasing on the ground after a turnover and Sexton kicked Ireland into its winning five-point lead. Game, set and match!

The injury-hit Springboks were hit by the late withdrawal of influential lock Bakkies Botha because of a back injury. Bekker stepped up from the bench, where there was no specialist second row cover, but there was little evidence of fatigue amid a frantic opening.

Although Sexton drew first blood for the Irish with a penalty, one had the impression that the Boks had the measure of the home side and would push on to victory.

This view was confirmed when the tourists scored a well-worked try in the fifteenth minute as centre Jaque Fourie popped the ball up to Burger crashing through on a straight line to score. Steyn converted Burger's try and slotted a drop goal to extend the visitors' lead to 10-3 after 24 minutes.

But the scoreline didn't tell the story.

South Africa resisted a couple of Irish surges thanks to the defensive feats of Burger, Danie Rossouw and Wynand Olivier. Heinrich Brussow also obliged with some steals off his own line. Ireland coach Declan Kidney must have been fuming, while the South African coaches would have been breathing a collective sigh of relief.

However the little errors and lack of discipline were seeping into the play of the Springboks as assuredly as the fog was making their fingers numb with cold.

Sexton kicked his second penalty for Ireland in the 29th minute but missed opportunities, poor discipline and decision making by South Africa - which would account for eventual defeat - were starting to mount.

Steyn squandered six points by missing two long range kicks in the closing minutes of the first half. Another penalty was conceded at the scrum and once again the Bok number ten missed the kick, though it was a third penalty that tested his range to the limit.

Ireland's scrum encountered further problems but they restored morale with two Sexton penalties that nudged them 12-10 ahead. Winger Keith Earls was bundled into touch in the left corner by Steyn and JP Pietersen as the Irish began to dictate things again with ball in hand.

Gordon D'Arcy, on as a replacement for the injured Paddy Wallace, and young flanker Sean O'Brien, who came on for Stephen Ferris, added their ball-carrying abilities as the men in white began to pour forward.

South Africa, wilting beneath the relentless pressure, conceded another penalty but this time Sexton missed. The Leinster pivot made it 15-10 in the 65th minute and, in truth, it might have been worse for the Boks because the Irish kicker pushed two other attempts.

The Bok management sent on Ruan Pienaar in a clear signal that the decision had made to go over to carrying the ball but instead he continued to hoof the ball away.

South Africa managed to launch one final do-or-die assault that saw Tendai Mtawarira rampage down the right wing, but Ireland doggedly defended their line - their efforts summed up by Brian O'Driscoll's crucial last-minute tackle on Zane Kirchner.

It was a Test the Boks could, and probably should have won but in the end they just did not have the gumption to coax anything more out of tired legs and tired minds.

Man of the match: Continuing where he left off on the Lions tour, Rob Kearney was assured throughout under the Springboks' high balls and showed just why he is rated as one of the best full-backs in world rugby.

Moment of the match: In an absorbing encounter, it was a shame the only try was supplied by Bok flanker Schalk Burger. The man the Irish love to boo after the infamous eye-gouging incident hoofed the ball into the crowd after grounding the try.

Villian of the match: The fog!

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Pens: Sexton 5

For South Africa:
Tries: Burger
Cons: Steyn
Drop-goal: Steyn

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O