Boks face low road after Ireland win a thriller in Paris to underline favourites status
The Springboks don’t quite have their destiny in their hands after Ireland edged the world champions 13-8 in an absolute Rugby World Cup thriller at the Stade de France.
Ireland 13 (7) South Africa 8 (3)
Victory for Ireland all but ensures they will top Pool B as they have 14 points from three matches with a final game against Scotland to come. The Boks have 10 log points with Tonga to play in Marseille next week.
The Boks’ problems were summed up in the final play of the match when they won a lineout from 10 metres, started a maul and were unable to score as Ireland held them up. Not for the first time in the match, Ireland’s immense defence and nous in the dark arts stopped the Boks.
Ireland won the breakdown battle and made more of their chances. The Boks did not. Not for the first time this season, the Boks left points scattered on the turf.
Manie Libbok missed two shots at goal as did Faf de Klerk – 11 points not taken. In a game of such fine margins, it was crucial and it will force a massive rethink from the coaching staff because it’s obvious to everyone that wasting scoring chances is going to end the defence of the title earlier than it should.
Libbok does so much well, but he’s clearly lacking confidence from the tee while De Klerk and others such as Cheslin Kolbe, are makeshift kickers. Handre Pollard’s return to the squad will raise the goal-kicking question again, but that’s a story for another day.
The controversial seven-one split between backs and forwards did not backfire, but it didn’t yield the desired outcome either. Deon Fourie, at hooker, was solid with one skew throw, while Cobus Reinach, the only back on the bench, was only required in the final five minutes.
As an experiment, it wasn’t a failure but it wasn’t a roaring success either. Ireland did struggle at times in the set piece, but everywhere else they held their own and edged it when it came to finishing.
Worthy of a final
This was simply a brutal Test worthy of the final and it could well be the final on 28 October, although there is a lot of rugby to be played before then.
This was Ireland’s 16th straight Test match win and they have underlined their status as the team to beat, but no one will want to face the Boks either.
It was a match of the highest quality for the most part. Hard, played on the ragged edge, but never spilling over into anything illegal. There is a great deal of respect between the sides and it showed in the contest.
But the final penalty count of 11 to eight against the Boks was the telling difference, which Ireland were able to turn to points when it mattered.
For South Africa, there is a lot they can take from the game and be happy, but finishing and composure in the red zone remains problematic.
The opening 40 minutes was easily the best this World Cup has seen. The ferocity on defence from both teams was scarcely believable as was the line speed and accuracy under immense pressure.
There is a reason these two sides were first and second on the world rankings coming into the match – they are both teams with no weaknesses and plenty of strengths.
It wasn’t mistake-free rugby, but how could it be in with such intensity? Ball carriers barely had time to grip the ball before they were being clobbered from all sides.
Ireland just about managed the half better thanks to the Boks conceding seven first-half penalties – most of them committed at the breakdown. It was an area Ireland knew they could exploit early on with the Boks main breakdown weapons on the bench. And openside Josh van der Flier and the rest of his mates did it well.
The Boks looked to be comfortable in holding Ireland out with their organised and brutal defence, but the regular penalties, allowed Ireland to transfer pressure back on the Boks. Something had to give.
When the Boks conceded a sixth penalty, Ireland captain Johnny Sexton drove his team deep into Bok territory, where they won the lineout. Multiple phases ensued, with Sexton himself coming close before wing James Lowe threw a great pass to right wing Mack Hansen to score.
It was the first time in nearly 200 minutes of rugby at the tournament, that the Boks had conceded a try.
That gave Ireland the lead seven minutes before the break after Libbok slotted a fourth-minute penalty for the Boks.
Ireland did well to claw their way into the game after losing their first four lineouts and conceded a free kick and a penalty in the first two scrums of the game.
Despite Ireland’s early set piece woes, the Boks could not breach the obdurate defence they faced.
Centre Damian de Allende twice smashed his way over the advantage line, first through opposite number Gary Ringrose and then over Sexton, but he was hauled up short of the line.
Another time wing Kurt-Lee Arendse won an awkward bouncing ball off Lowe’s nose and flipped an inside ball to Jesse Kriel. But Ringrose hauled the Bok centre down from behind.
Minutes later Kriel made a desperate try-saving tackle on Ireland fullback Hugo Keenan after Bundee Aki had broken the Bok line from deep and made nearly 50 metres downfield before being hauled in.
After the break, the Boks needed to score first to stay in the match and after weathering some early Irish pressure they worked their way into midfield where they won a penalty.
De Klerk’s 54-metre attempt hit the uprights, but the rebound ball led to a mad scramble that ended in a scrum. The Boks forced a scrum penalty and then scrummed again. The ball was worked left and Libbok found Kolbe with a beautiful long pass for the Boks’ only try of the match.
They briefly led, but a Johnny Sexton penalty minutes later edged Ireland ahead again.
Between 60 and 70 minutes it was all Springboks and they earned several penalties. But oddly, they opted for long-range penalty shots instead of backing the rolling maul. When they finally did turn to the maul, it was too late. DM
Ireland – Try: Mack Hansen. Conversion: Johnny Sexton. Penalties: Sexton, Jack Crowley.
South Africa – Try: Cheslin Kolbe. Penalty: Manie Libbok.