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Saturday, 06 July 2024 20:00

Springboks confirm number one status by beating Ireland 27-20.

By Gavin Rich.

It wasn't a game where we thought we'd be talking about the Springbok scrum but the big men produced at a crucial moment to effectively make sure of the 27-20 win in front of a packed Loftus that breaks an eight year duck against Ireland.

The South Africans led from the third minute, when Kurt-Lee Arendse rounded off a superbly created buildup that effectively started from the kick-off, but perhaps they were seduced by that score because the Boks, although repeatedly threatening when they ran the ball wide, were often too loose.

Flyhalf Handre Pollard was also a bit undercooked, both in his general play and in his kicking from the tee, where although he did slot a crucial conversion to the second Bok try from the touchline, failed with some attempts he’d normally kick with his eyes closed. And the Bok scrum didn't get the kind of ascendancy that the Vodacom Bulls did against many of these same opponents when they were dressed in Leinster clothing here at Loftus three weeks ago.

Indeed, the Ireland scrum looked the superior unit for much of the game, until that is the Boks produced the awesome scrum that led to referee Luke Pearce awarding a scrum penalty to the hosts as they drove over the line and over an Irish scrum that completely disintegrated.

Clinched the game

It was the score that clinched the game, for Ireland had just come back to 20-15, a deficit of just five points, through a try to reserve scrumhalf Conor Murray off an attack that was started by a break from reserve hooker Ronan Kelleher. There were four minutes to go at that point and with Arendse have been yellow carded and the Boks down to 14 men, they were set to be a nerve-wracking final few minutes.

But Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, who had just been introduced for Pollard, kicked off long, and Ireland wing James Lowe might have been tempted to let the ball fly over his shoulder and, he would have hoped, over the dead-ball line or touch in goal. But he chose to play it, it hit his outstretched hands just metres from the line, and Kolbe was flying through, as he always is, and the ball was kicked against the Bok wing.

It meant a five metre scrum to South Africa, and it was from there that the Bok scrum drove over the line and made sure of the win that ends a barren period against the world’s No 2 ranked team that stretches back to the deciding test of the 2016 series in Port Elizabeth.

The importance of the scrum effort that produced the try was underlined a minute or so later when another sharp Irish attack saw Ryan Baird, the one of the replacement forwards, go over in the corner. That score and the earlier one by Murray was certainly a warning across the bows of the Boks, and there really was little to choose between the two sides.

Not a clinical perform performance 

The Boks pressured the Irish lineout and they made mistakes at crucial stages in that phase, and there were several occasions in the game when it looked like Boks had created space, as they did in their first try, only for good Irish defence or a Bok error to leave them short. On that score, it was not the clinical performance that we thought beforehand might be needed to cancel out the small margins in Ireland's favour of the last two games between these sides.

There were plenty of errors and frustrating moments, but it was a high tempo and fast quality game that sets up the second test in Durban next weekend perfectly. The Irish might feel a bit more confident after their strong final quarter at altitude, but at the same time the Boks will expect to be better too.

They will probably look to tighten up their approach too. Jesse Kriel was a deserving winner of the man of the match award, and it is hard to remember when last a Bok outside centre was brought into the action as often as Kriel was in the first quarter and beyond.

The Japan based player played a role in the first try as eventually good ball retention from the Boks saw space created on the left. A long pass from Willie du Plessis brought in Kriel who had Siya Kolisi, who was in barnstorming form in this game, alongside him. Kolisi’s pass to Arendse was perfectly timed and the wing stepped inside two defenders to complete the try.

Pollard kicked the conversion and the Boks were ahead 7-0. Crowley drew three points back in the 16th minute as the Boks paid for early indiscipline and errors. Crowley also missed a relatively easy penalty later in the half.

The Boks went ahead 10-3 and then 13-3 to two Pollard penalties, and it looked like they were in control on the scoreboard only for James Lowe to produce a brilliant offload on the touchline that debutant fullback Jamie Osborne was up to take and slide over for the try. At 13-8 Ireland were well back in the game and that remained the score throughout the third quarter despite the Boks having the territorial ascendancy for much of that period but they just couldn’t nail down the score they needed to take them beyond a converted try ahead.

Lowe's y cancelled out

It looked like their failure to nail the points they needed, a combination of Pollard missed kicks and some rather sloppy play in a 22 entry, might bite them when Lowe ran 60 metres after getting the ball back from a loose scrum and taking off down an unguarded left flank. This wasn’t one of the better Bok defensive performances, but fortunately for them the TMO ruled the ball had come out of the scrum illegally.

So instead of the Irish drawing level, Pollard was presented with a penalty attempt which he missed. He was on target though when he converted Kolbe’s 66th minute try that came about in quite unfortunate fashion from an Ireland viewpoint, with Osborne knocking Pollard’s line kick from a penalty back into play and Kolbe was up to kick through and then score.

The conversion took it to 20-8 to the Boks with 14 minutes to go but Ireland had other ideas and it was left to the scrum to make sure of the win that gives the hosts a 1-0 lead heading to Durban. After this enthralling game that clash can’t come soon enough.


South Africa 27 - Tries: Kurt-Lee Arendse and Cheslin Kolbe; Penalty try; Conversions: Handre Pollard 2; Penalties: Handre Pollard 2.

Ireland 20 - Tries: Jamie Osborne, Conor Murray and Ryan Baird; Conversion: Jack Crowley. Penalty: Dan Crowley.