By Claire Glancy
I CAN’T begin to imagine the impact on Ireland’s pysche having come so close to beating the World Champions on their own turf, and then suffering a record defeat the following week and being nilled in the process. But I’m guessing it comes pretty close to complete demoralisation. Ireland have had to wait five long months to right the wrongs of that evening in Hamilton and all the talk in the build up to the South Africa game gave the impression they would end the losing streak, and then some.
Two days before the Test, Cian Healy laid bare his mindset to his twitter followers:
So after forty minutes, a nine-point lead against the Springboks is a scoreline Ireland would happily settled for before kick off. It certainly sounds like a move in the right direction, even if all the points came from Jonathon Sexton’s metronomic boot.
More worryingly, Ireland never really threatened with ball in hand. South Africa looked surprisingly rusty and lacklustre for a team coming off the back of The Rugby Championship. In fact, afterwards Coach Heyneke Meyer admitted as much, “it was the worst forty minutes of rugby I’ve ever seen South Africa play.” Frustrated at their performance, indiscipline crept into the Boks play as they gave away 11 penalties in the first-half. JP Pietersen’s shoulder charge on Chris Henry was at best careless and epitomized their frustration.
Despite the game’s slow tempo, the break couldn’t come quickly enough for South Africa. When in trouble most coaches will say concentrate on getting the basics right and things will get better. The Boks came out a different side in the second-half and went back to their traditional strength of catch and drive. Although they didn’t score from that directly, it did give them field position and did enough to get Jamie Heaslip a yellow card and put themselves in a position where adopted Ulsterman Ruan Pienaar sniped over from a yard.
Ireland’s kicking out of hand in the first half was as good as it was poor in the second. They just couldn’t get possession of the ball in the right areas or really break the wall of green. The desire was there but the ability to create space wasn’t. The hosts struggled to mix up their game effectively and couldn’t build front foot phases or get through the SA defensive line. As a result Ireland started to play deeper and deeper.
Without the hugely experienced, Paul O’Connell and Rory Best, the line-out really was the Achilles heel in the first-half. Ireland struggled to win their own balland never looked likely to disrupt the South African’s with the outstanding Eben Etzebeth. The second-half was much improved, however.
The scrum was an improvement from the summer tour and apart from a few debatable decisions from the referee, it will give the Irish confidence for the rest of the Testseason.
Looking at the some of the newer faces in the Irish starting line up, Chris Henry was committed and showed the value off having an out and out open-side at the breakdown especially in the first-half. Mike McCarthy was abrasive in defence and Simon Zebo showed promise for a player only in his second test.
Afterwards Ireland didn’t look for excuses. There was no blaming the injuries, the young guns, the referee or the Captain’s sin-bin that saw the scoreline rise at a point a minute. Ireland have to do what South Africa did in the second-half, work on getting the basics right and run with more directness and conviction and find their attacking creativity. A further defeat in this series could see them perilously close to dropping out of the top eight in the IRB rankings ahead of the draw for the 2015 World Cup which takes place in early December. As if Ireland needed any more motivation to end this losing streak against the red-hot Pumas, surely that will be it.