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Dublin: 5°C Saturday 17 April 2021

New faces make their mark, Ireland's dominance and more Aviva talking points

A thoroughly dominant victory leaves huge grounds for optimism heading into the season ahead.

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium 

Ireland’s statement of intent

Ireland players celebrate Rhys Ruddock scoring a try Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

THREE LATE TRIES added gloss to the scoreboard, but Ireland were full value for an emphatic victory which provides a springboard for the rest of this three-game November series.

This first outing of the season against the Springboks, ranked one place below Ireland in fifth, was always going to be the key game of the Autumn schedule and Joe Schmidt’s side produced a dominant performance from the outset.

Bundee Aki, on debut, set the tone with a big hit in midfield and from there, Ireland seized complete control of the contest to run in four tries and put the visitors to the sword. A 38-3 victory is Ireland’s biggest over the ‘Boks.

Johnny Sexton, who was again named man of the match, admitted the end result flattered Ireland to a certain degree but that can take nothing away from some fine individual displays around the park.

Aki, Sexton and Andrew Conway all sparkled while Jacob Stockdale, on the occasion of his home debut, sealed a memorable evening with his second international try in the far corner. The celebration, as Sean O’Brien jumped on top of the young winger, was a fitting end to very satisfying evening’s work.

Defensively, Ireland were a class above and really impressive linespeed didn’t give South Africa a moment to breathe and by the time the game had reached the second quarter, the hosts were pulling clear through Sexton’s boot and Conway’s smart finish.

It did, however, take until the 70th minute for Schmidt’s side to produce a moment of rugby clarity, as Sexton and Stockdale combined in midfield to cut open a tiring Springbok defence.

Rhys Ruddock finished the move, and Rob Herring and the 21-year-old Ulster winger crossed twice more in the final exchanges.

Plenty to work on, but a job superbly done — onwards and upwards towards Fiji and Argentina.

The new faces seize their chance

Bundee Aki takes a selfie with his family including daughter Adrianna Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There were so many impressive facets of this four-try demolition of the Springboks — including that defensive resilience, the tireless work around the breakdown and the strong, clinical finish — but the infusion of new blood makes it all the more satisfying.

Sexton pulled the strings, the back row unit worked tirelessly and the pack dominated but Conway, Stockdale and Aki were all outstanding. Herring put in a good shift off the bench, with all the replacements having a positive impact to ensure the foot remained on the pedal.

After all the build-up, Aki’s performance lived up to expectation.

He made 16 tackles, the first of which put the ‘Boks instantly on the back foot, and showed a good understanding outside Sexton and inside Robbie Henshaw in the Irish midfield. Henshaw, for his part, defended the outside channels expertly.

There was a lovely moment at full time when the Connacht centre greeted his family, including his young daughter, in the stands. It was a proud day for him, and you could see it meant a hell of a lot.

Conway and Stockdale enjoyed similarly memorable days as they both got on the scoresheet and overall made positive impacts in both attack and defence. The future is bright.

“I thought the new faces were outstanding and proved their selection,” Sexton said afterwards.

“Delighted to get the win over South Africa. I’m sure the boss will find lots to give out to us about. We have plenty to improve on. I think the score flattered us a bit. Plenty to work on going into next week and the week after. ”

A sorry Springbok performance

This was an awfully abject showing from the visitors, who are now winless in five outings.

Allister Coetzee admitted afterwards the Springboks let themselves and their fans down as their season sunk to another sobering low in the face of a hard-working and clinical Irish performance.

Ben O’Keeffe awards a penalty to South Africa Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In the end, it was an absolute pummeling.

Any incremental gains from the narrow defeat to New Zealand in Newlands have quickly evaporated and, in truth, they never looked like coming away from Dublin with anything other than another defeat on the road under Coetzee.

One step forward, two steps back for the ‘Boks.

Second best in almost every aspect, they were horrible inaccurate with ball in hand and on three separate occasions in the first half spurned good attacking platforms with loose passes.

Up front, they were obliterated by the Irish scrum and had no answer to the aerial bombardment from Sexton in the first half with their inexperienced back three exposed.

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How we rated Ireland in their four-try victory over South Africa at the Aviva

Conway and Stockdale on the mark as Ireland cruise to win over sorry Springboks

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Ryan Bailey

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