RWC 2023

Boks face low road after Ireland win a thriller in Paris to underline favourites status

Boks face low road after Ireland win a thriller in Paris to underline favourites status
PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 23: Jasper Wiese of South Africa during the Rugby World Cup 2023 Pool B match between South Africa and Ireland at Stade de France on September 23, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

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. 

Manie Libbok of South Africa during the Rugby World Cup 2023 Pool B match between South Africa and Ireland at Stade de France on September 23, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

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.

Fast start

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.

Cheslin Kolbe of South Africa runs with the ball during the Rugby World Cup 2023 Pool B match between South Africa and Ireland at Stade de France on September 23, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Juan Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images)

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.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Grenville Wilson says:

    Great rugby I’ll take watching this class of Rugby allbeit we lost, against watching an 80 point win against a 2nd tier nation. And what a pleasure, reading the press reports and in the final analysis our coaches didn’t blame the referee and all credit goes to the winning team 👏 rugby clearly the winner 🏉

    • Totally agree, what a test match, both sides left nothing out there, Im Irish and I have to say watching that game versus watching a tier 2 side been smashed was far more enjoyable, fans also made it a spectacle, plus the ref let the game flow..Boks are the team to Beat they are fantastic, however France will have a huge say in the outcome

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    The Boks fell apart after the try against them. Did they belive their own propoganda that they were unbeatable. Did they go into collective shock.

    • Ben Harper says:

      This isn’t the first RWC where they’ve employed similar tactics – they show weakness but when it comes crunch time they show what they really prepared for. My guess is the loss was strategic, they’d rather face France in the QF than the All Blacks. An AB QF will be a brutal game which can potentially produce injuries to some of our top players- rather let the Irish face that and we deal with France

  • Chris Charles says:

    No kicker? No World Cup.

  • Michele Rivarola says:

    Just shows how important it is to make the most of every opportunity. Ireland’s try came as a result of one missed tackle. We dropped passes, took the wrong options with the Irish try line beckoning on at least three occasions let alone left 11 kickable points on the board. Forwards can only do so much after that it is up to the other five to do their job. Kriel is a defensive no13 but offers very little as an attacking no13 . If we end up playing France less Dupont is better for us than playing the ABs.

  • dgcoventry says:

    I didn’t see too much in the Irish to say that they will beat NZ if they meet them in the quarters as seems likely.

    I felt that Kriel lacked the ability to penetrate the Irish line, but I think most of that was due to Ireland standing, unpenalised offside for a lot of the time and being able to close our backline down early.

    But yes, we’ll need to sharpen up considerably if we are to progress.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    ” Not for the first time in the match, Ireland’s immense defence and nous in the dark arts stopped the Boks.”

    And there you have it in a nutshell. Ireland are a good team but I wouldn’t rate them that highly. They are used to playing in the cold and wet Northern Hemisphere (and the Deep South of the Southern, as in New Zealand who they beat) and have mastered those Dark Arts very well. The Boks have hardly played them in SA (last time 2016 tour) and only twice in the last five years (in real winter) in Ireland, so probably needed this game to get a better measure of them. As I said in your other column, Craig, Peter de Villiers said on SABC that the Boks actually controlled the game, and I agree with him, they just couldn’t control their catching a couple of crucial times, and I still think Manie kicked well albeit slightly crookedly, but on exactly the same line each time, which suggests he might be OK but acting under orders!! Who would know with Rasnaber…

  • Rae Earl says:

    Craig Ray read the match perfectly and his coverage is tops. SA to win emphatically if we meet Ireland in the final and have Pollard targeting the posts. Nienaber is the best coach in the business which underlines the Bok’s ferocious attacking play.

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    Sydney Kaye, your comment is very naïve, the Boks “did not fall apart” nor did they believe they “were unbeatable”. Whilst we had our chances to win the point was strongly made that world cup games later in the tournament are won on kicking. I, together with Victor Matfield am not too unhappy and would rather we play France in the quarters than the All Blacks who always rise to the occasion. A place must be found for Pollard – inside centre? Also the match was almost a family gathering with Munster players from both sides and the previous Munster coaches now coaching the Boks. If we do not win the Cup, Ireland will and perhaps it is their time.

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