Ireland lose to South Africa in first of Autumn Internationals

By Liam McEvoy

South Africa ran out winners as the return to the home of Irish rugby got off to a disappointing start in the Autumn Internationals. Ireland scored two late tries to put a gloss on the final score, but South Africa finished deserving 23-21 winners.

Those hoping for an explosive start to life at the Aviva stadium were instead treated to a dull affair between two out-of-form teams.  A cold, wet miserable night, coupled with the two teams involved, didn’t make for a game full of running rugby, and an attendance of only 39,000 meant there was a flat atmosphere in the stadium.

South Africa may have been missing 13 players but they were still able to put out a strong forward pack. Ireland are making a habit of starting slowly in the November Internationals, having scraped a draw with a late try against Australia last year.

This year was no different as the Springbok pack started strongly from the kick off, going through phase after phase before Morne Steyn scored his first penalty of the match. Juan Smith then scored an intercept try after poor play from Eoin Reddan following a sloppy Irish lineout. Morne Steyn added the conversion bringing his international record of converted place kicks to 40 in a row.

Poor handling, poor decision making and poor discipline cost Ireland any chance to get any momentum going. Cian Healey dropping the ball while taking a quick penalty and Brian O’Driscoll failing to release the player after tackling him were just two occasions of Ireland giving away possession too easy.  

It was nearly half an hour before Irish fans had anything to cheer about, when Jonathan Sexton slotted away his first penalty having missed a chance earlier in the game. Despite dominating possession and territory in the first half, another penalty by Steyn was all South Africa had to show for their efforts.

Sexton added a second penalty on the stroke of half time to leave the score at 13-6. Nothing had gone right for the Irish side in the first half and the second started just as badly with a penalty to the Springboks. From the restart, the Irish players failed to catch the ball before Donncha O’Callaghan was penalised for tackling Matfield in the lineout.

Steyn missed the penalty as the Springbok pack continued to dominate an Irish side who looked as if they had never met before. It took a Gio Aplon try for Declan Kidney and his management to act, replacing the half back pairing with Stringer and O’Gara coming on.

O’Gara winning his 100th cap was involved almost immediately with a lovely kick which bounced kindly for Tommy Bowe to score. Kearney went over in the corners minutes later after Ireland kept the ball and went through the phases before O’Gara passed it wide.

The conversion attempt from O’Gara hit the post, leaving Ireland in need of another score to win. However, the Springboks kept the ball in the pack as time ran out and they beat Ireland for the first time since 2000.

The defeat and the manner of the performance leave serious questions over the management and the type of game the Irish team wish to play. The remaining autumn internationals and the Six Nations  Championship will show whether this game was simply early season rust or whether Ireland are a team in decline.

Other Autumn International results:

England 16  v  New Zealand 26

Wales 16 v Australia 25

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