IRELAND MADE HISTORY with a 26-20 win over South Africa in Cape Town.
Read our match report here.
JUST HOURS AFTER Ireland’s U20 side made history with their stunning win over New Zealand in Manchester, the senior side did the same in Cape Town.
At the eighth time of asking, Ireland won a Test against the Springboks on South African soil. Eddie O’Sullivan’s 2004 crop pushed the Boks twice on the most recent tour, but this win for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland was genuinely comprehensive.
The Springboks looked nervous as they realised that a red card for CJ Stander wasn’t going to mean Ireland just stepping aside. Even without a handful of experience leaders missing through injury, Ireland looked the far more assured team.
On a day that won’t be forgotten, this is one of Irish rugby’s greatest-ever wins.
Leaders stand up
The likes of Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien were absent but Ireland still had a core of experienced winners within their ranks. They rose to this 14-man challenge with aplomb.
Rory Best had his finest outing yet as captain, while Jamie Heaslip at number eight was at his inimitable best. Devin Toner in the second row has been a totem throughout Schmidt’s reign, while Mike Ross is the same at tighthead.
27-year-old Conor Murray’s influence on the game bordered on the ludicrous, while Jared Payne, Keith Earls and Andrew Trimble in the back three were composure personified.
In contrast, South Africa looked rattled at the key moments in the game. Their halfback pairing of Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantijies looked utterly unsure of how to take control of the situation when they trailed 20-13 in the second half.
They did not receive any great help from the more more experienced likes of Duane Vermeulen, François Louw and Adriaan Strauss in those crucial minutes.
Ireland’s old head, in contrast, stood up to be counted.
New leaders emerge
Schmidt will not have been surprised to see the aforementioned showing mental strength in difficult circumstances, while his faith – albeit with his hands tied by injuries – in a handful of younger players was rewarded.
Paddy Jackson showed that he has come of age with a composed performance. Even when he was picked off by Pieter-Steph du Toit for a Boks try, the Ulsterman regathered himself and slotted a penalty.
Outside him, Luke Marshall showed that the time away from the Test arena has allowed him to mature and he also exuded confidence. Robbie Henshaw, at the age of 22, looks like a man ready to move into a figure who commands Test matches.
In the forward pack, Jack McGrath underlined his status as a new leader of this squad. He is just 26.
Iain Henderson is readymade for Test rugby and will only grow and grow. 25-year-old Jordi Murphy put his head down for a huge shift at openside after being questioned all week, again looking like a more mature version of his former self.
For many of these younger players, the win on South African soil is just a start.
Schmidt’s finest hour
Ireland head coach Schmidt has come in for criticism from quite a few corners in recent weeks, as he did during the Six Nations, making this victory all the sweeter for him.
He sent a highly-motivated Ireland team onto the pitch in Newlands with a game plan that ensured the Boks got no easy gains with ball in hand and were consistently under pressure defensively. There was width early on from Ireland, before the red card ensured they couldn’t always go to those channels.
Nonetheless, Ireland continued to be the more incisive team and Murray’s try in the second half was just reward for their positive reaction.
Schmidt has built huge collective belief within this group, a confidence that couldn’t be broken by the third-placed finish in the Six Nations this year. Two championship titles and a win on South African soil; Schmidt’s reputation will continue to grow.
A series win against the Boks is there for the taking. With two shots at it, Schmidt will have confidence of finishing the job he’s there to do.
Stander sees red
This would, of course, have been more of a talking point if Ireland had lost. As it happened, the red card served to rally Schmidt’s men.
The overwhelming initial reaction to the CJ Stander incident was that referee Mathieu Raynal got it badly, badly wrong. Others feel the Ireland blindside’s actions were completely reckless and with an intention to hit Pat Lambie.
The hope all round is that the Springboks’ out-half makes a full recovery but this incident will continue to be debated.
Certainly, Stander took a huge risk by leaping upwards and into Lambie in the manner he did. Whatever about the question of intent, Stander’s leap was dangerous.
One could argue that players jump to block kicks all the time but then most do not see their hip area collide forcefully with the head of the kicking player.
In a sport where concussion is a major issue, such incidents are clearly unwelcome. That said, one has to wonder whether the decision would have be been a red card had Lambie not been forced to stay down and get stretchered off.
A yellow card seemed the sensible decision.
As good a Test debut for Ireland as the Englishman could have dreamed of. He preaches the utter importance of mindset when defending and that influence told in every second Ireland didn’t have the ball.
Farrell’s men hassled the Boks, harried them, hunted them into the ground. The rugby league legend spoke about building on the fine base that Les Kiss left and, again, was true to his word as the choke tackle constantly stifled the South Africans.
Schmidt recognised the need for a big voice in the Ireland group after the departure of Paul O’Connell due to retirement and Farrell is providing that already by all accounts. His signing may prove to be a masterstroke by Schmidt and the IRFU.
Already the impact is being felt.
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