Andy Farrell's side showed their tournament credentials with a pulsating Paris win
World No 1 for a reason. Ireland edged South Africa in a pulsating Parisian encounter to take a stranglehold on Pool B and all but secure their quarter-final spot. Of course, for this side it is about going beyond the last eight for the first time in their history. But on this evidence, you’d be brave to back against them going all the way.
Mack Hansen’s try, Johnny Sexton’s conversion and penalty plus a late Jack Crowley three-pointer were enough to give Andy Farrell’s men the win in a gripping clash in the French capital.
South Africa scored through Cheslin Kolbe but were left to rue missing 11 points worth of kicks as Manie Libbok erred from the tee and Faf de Klerk was unable to land two long-range efforts.
South Africa v Ireland as it happened
The hype train had been travelling at full speed ahead of this clash but the ferocity of the opening exchanges lived up to every bit of anticipation coming into this potential Pool B decider. You’ll do well to remember a more physical first 30 minutes, if not entire half of rugby.
Ireland’s lineout stuttered early, they lost five on their own ball in just the first 21 minutes, and their failure to capitalise on good attacking platforms meant Manie Libbok was able to give South Africa the lead with an easy three pointer. Hugo Keenan almost scored for Andy Farrell’s men but was hauled down just inches short of the line out on the left wing before a knock-on killed the Irish momentum.
The legions of Irish fans inside the Stade de France here in Paris were forced to hold their breath when first Garry Ringrose and then captain Johnny Sexton went down with injuries. Ringrose went for an HIA before returning while Sexton gamely battled on after feeling the full force of Damian de Allende.
Read more: Ireland Rugby World Cup squad
Jesse Kriel must’ve thought he was going to score when he steamed onto the ball at pace after a five-metre scrum but a phenomenal Bundee Aki tackle scythed him down within touching distance of the tryline. To add insult to injury his pop off the ground cannoned off his skipper Siya Kolisi’s head with the line begging.
Aki, who slipped behind England’s Henry Arundell in the try-scoring stakes before kick-off, continued to put in yet another thundering performance at this tournament. Somehow the burly inside centre found himself free in midfield and burst through the Springbok defence, showing a good turn of pace to make it into their 22 before he was eventually felled.
He soon reappeared out on the left wing where a neat offload out the back of his hand got James Lowe going but the move broke down when he was held up in the tackle with the support players rushing past.
Despite their inconsistency and the line out, Ireland kept going for the nuclear option of kicking to the corner and it eventually paid off. A neat wrap around move almost saw Sexton squirm over but eventually the pressure told and a clinical catch-pass from Lowe put his opposite winger Mack Hansen in for a score to the delight of the travelling (light) green army.
That was enough to give Ireland the slenderest of leads at half-time, the world’s No 1 side coming into this game going in 7-3 up having dominated both territory and possession.
Related: South Africa Rugby World Cup squad
If you didn’t already know Ireland were up for this contest then the sight of Eben Etzebeth being carried of both feet by Lowe ought to have done the trick. The most aerial of choke tackles. Etzebeth’s day was over as Jacques Nienaber started to deploy the much talked about 7-1 Bomb Squad. It soon paid dividends.
Powerful scrummaging and tidy hands in the backs gave Libbok time and space to float a loopy ball out to Cheslin Kolbe who skipped in unchallenged on the left wing. In his attempt to get Kolbe closer to the posts, full-back Damian Willemse almost got penalised for blocking off Sexton’s attempted tackle but a brief TMO check decided there was nothing doing.
Libbok’s conversion missed the mark to keep South Africa’s lead to just a solitary point. And that did not last long. Jamison Gibson-Park knocked on at the base under counter-rucking pressure but his forward pack stood up and won a scrum penalty against the head. Sexton duly added the three to regain the lead for his side with the score at 10-8 heading into the final quarter.
Libbok’s kicking began to tell as a penalty attempt drifted wide. Faf de Klerk had early struck the uprights with a long-range penalty attempt inside his own half and his second bite at the cherry was also unsuccessful with a quarter-of-an-hour left to play.
Ireland had no such problems off the tee and when Jack Crowley, on late for Sexton, nudged over a simple penalty after Ireland got the decision at scrum time it looked like the game was theirs.
But back South Africa came in typically belligerent style. Only some heroic last-ditch maul defence stopped the Springbok juggernaut in its tracks. Turnover to Ireland and the game.
Then came the most spine-tingling rendition of The Cranberries’ Zombie, Ireland’s unofficial new anthem. The official attendance of 78,542 spectators was by far mostly Irish and the rendition will live long in the memory for all those lucky enough to witness it.
A fitting finale to a terrific game. But who knows we may all do it all over again in five weeks’ time?