big issues

Missed chance and chances, red and more talking points from Ireland's defeat

Ireland will feel they missed their best-ever chance to win a series in South Africa.

IRELAND CAME UP short in the final Test against South Africa, losing the series 2-1 after a 19-13 defeat to the Springboks in Port Elizabeth.

Read our match report here.

Missed opportunity

Ireland will leave South Africa with an historic first win against the Boks on their own soil, but they will carry with them feelings of regret too.

Eben Etzebeth Eben Etzebeth wins lineout ball for the Boks. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

There are many positives for Joe Schmidt and the IRFU to take from this tour, of course, but Ireland may not have another opportunity like it for some time. The Irish performances deserve major credit for how they pressured the South Africans but this was far from a vintage Springbok team.

They are likely to improve under Allister Coetzee but they were there for the taking, even with Ireland missing so many injured players – Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony among them.

The losses of Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw only accentuated the difficulty of this third Test but Ireland will still feel they could have won it and made further history.

The second-half collapse in Johannesburg is likely to rankle most of all for Schmidt and his players in the coming weeks.

Red card

On first viewing, it was quite obvious that Willie le Roux was in serious trouble. Ireland fullback Tiernan O’Halloran landed on his neck after being upended in the air and the impression was that a red card was coming.

Springboks Willie le Roux Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

That impression has been built up by so many incidents that have been similar to this one. Consistency called for a red card, whatever one’s view about le Roux’s intent.

The replays of the incident only strengthened the impression that a red card was on the way for le Roux, with the Springboks fullback having left O’Halloran in a deeply dangerous position.

Instead, TMO Rowan Kitt advised Glen Jackson that the Connacht man had landed on the “top of his shoulders” and that a yellow card was the best way to proceed. Jackson was happy to agree.

What would be truly fascinating and proactive on the part of World Rugby in the coming days would be to clarify this ruling. It’s something Scotty Stevenson has suggested in the recent past; not as a tool to hang referees but as a means to educating us all.

The aerial challenge in rugby has become an utter mess and clarifying incidents like this can help everyone involved in the game. Who can say with any certainty that their opinion on the matter is correct?

Tell us World Rugby – was this the correct decision?

Missed opportunities

Accentuating the sense of a missed chance for Ireland on this tour were the actual missed try-scoring opportunities in Port Elizabeth.

Luke Marshall Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Luke Marshall burst through the Boks’ defence late in the first half and had Keith Earls on his left, awaiting the try-scoring pass. The ball instead flew forward. Moments later, JP Pietersen was crossing on the end of a sumptuous cross-field kick from Elton Jantjies.

In the second half, a clever maul during phase play from Ireland sucked in defenders and created an overlap wide on the right. Paddy Jackson attempted to float a ball over the head of Faf de Klerk but mis-calibrated his pass.

The opportunity looked to be on to go through the hands more simply but Jackson opted to float his pass and de Klerk made a brilliant interception. Within five minutes, Jantjies had kicked the Boks into a nine-point lead from the tee.

There were other moments that Ireland will pick out but they had their opportunities and couldn’t show the consistent clincial edge that Test rugby requires.

Bench arrives late

Following that intercepted pass from Jackson, we saw Jamie Heaslip’s tip-on pass go to ground in the Boks 22, Marshall knock-on as Ireland attacked near the halfway line and then the Irish scrum get marched backwards.

Joe Schmidt with Jared Payne Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

The error count was already racking up for Ireland at that stage, before the 60-minute mark, and the game looked perfectly set up for the introduction of the likes of Ultan Dillane, Rhys Ruddock and Sean Cronin.

Instead, Schmidt waited and backed his starters to find another gear.

Ruddock, Dillane and Eoin Reddan had to wait until the 69th minute to enter the fray, while Cronin was used in the 73rd minute.

Cronin’s big linebreak showed what he can offer off the bench in terms of impact but Schmidt may wonder whether he should have acted even a few minutes earlier.

Positives moving forward

Injuries provided opportunities on this tour and many of Ireland’s players took theirs.

Though he faded in terms of performance in the third Test, Paddy Jackson had an excellent tour and showed his maturity, while Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall garnered valuable experience in the midfield.

Paddy Jackson kicks a penalty Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Iain Henderson was excellent again in the third Test and is a consistent force in the international arena now, having formed a strong pairing with Devin Toner in the second row.

Jared Payne’s move to fullback for the first two games, before his injury, was highly encouraging for Ireland as he added attacking spark and composure from the back. Jack McGrath, meanwhile, is among the best looseheads in the world.

Tadhg Furlong had a couple of difficult moments in the third Test but his display in the second was superb. Pushing through an heir for Mike Ross is a priority for Ireland moving forward.

There are several other players in the Irish squad who showed up well in South Africa, and it will be fascinating now to learn what plan Schmidt has for his own future.

The Kiwi said he would make a call on his future after this tour and if he is to leave, the next man into the hot seat can be confident that Ireland have the tools required to compete.

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Schmidt’s Ireland come up short as Springboks claim series victory

Was a yellow card the right call for this Willie le Roux challenge?

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