Well, that was unexpected. The might Springboks marched into Dublin with their heads up after running the All Blacks thisclose two weeks ago. They had the mind games going all week by talking up Ireland and being overly complimentary. Knowing that Ireland rarely stand up to the tag of favourites, the ‘Boks where needling through niceness all week. A Gatland-esque technique that has worked before.
Coming in, Ireland looked confident. The team selection was near perfect (injuries permitting). Pundits had the Aki question and the Kearney selection near the top of their articles. All of this meant that the tension was mounting on game day.
It all started with the anthems. Rob Kearney had the shark eyes in. He looked ready for anything. Padraig Harrington has the same look in his eyes when he is on form. Slightly different physical output for a golfer though. Aki looked slightly nervous which was to be expected.
The opening whistle sounded and the crowd made THAT noise. It is the noise I love at the opening whistle. The loud guttural noise of expectation mixed with worry. Almost immediately Aki made himself known in the big jersey and to the opposition. Himself and Sexton attacked (and that’s what it was) the massive Springbok prop Coenie Oosthuizen. 1 high 1 low and you could hear the massive 127 kg man scream! His knee buckled horribly and he was gone. He would have been a pillar of a massively physical attack that the ‘boks would have planned. Bundee and Sexton where in the game within seconds which was massive for the team. Game 1 was undone for South Africa. The second part of the game plan was the set piece. South Africa would have thought they could make way into the Irish lineout and scrum. Neither made the South Africans any money. Ireland put South Africa back in the first scrum and where strong in the lineout. This was early in the game and the penalties began to leak from the ‘boks. It was 9-0 after 19 minutes. This was the way the game was going to go. Ireland had ideas and where dealing with the massive South African team with ease. The line speed was quicker than backstage at a guns n roses gig in 1989. The first try for Ireland was scored by Andrew Conway, who got in after an injury to Keith Earls. He was the only player (along with Earls) who looked dangerous in the last interpro meeting between the two. He backed himself and left the opposition in the dust. Massive confidence booster for him and the team.
There were a few psychological wins during this half to. Henderson barrelled over Etzbeth like he was a child and Cian Healy (who also put in his best game in green in a while) who one handed another ‘bok player. These all added to the baggage the Springboks where carrying while adding energy to Ireland.
First half finished 14-0 and Ireland where light years ahead in all areas.
The second half needed to start the same way. Ireland needed to really put the foot on the throat and put the opposition away. It didn’t start that way. They didn’t start badly, just slightly slower. Penalties where conceded but not in dangerous areas. South Africa picked up 3 points from 3 penalties as opposed to the 9 points Ireland picked up from penalties in the first half. The game changed again 10 minutes into the second half. Ireland got back in and bossed it massively. It was demoralising for the visitors. The subs began at 66 minutes. Healy and Best made way and the replacements (Kilcoyne and Herring) slotted in easily. They helped the team continue to boss the opposition. Ireland kept going forward without much resistance but the scores didn’t arrive until 71 minutes where Rhys Ruddock scored an absolutely pornographic try. Definitely worth watching again. That opened the floodgates for another 2 tries and another penalty to go with the conversions.
It was massively positive.
While the Springboks are a team in transition, they are not the power they once were. They are still a team that can fight their way to a result on their day. They tried early, but were not allowed. Ireland out fought them, out played them and out muscled them. There was no point in the match that it looked like Ireland would concede. It was fantastic to watch. They kept the pressure on until the last second resulting in a try. It really put a marker down for the coming 6 Nations.
Fiji next week, the team can be rotated a small bit but not at the sacrifice of the result. But for week 1, Ireland hit the ground running and steamrolled over a big (but slightly inept) South African team.
The future is bright.
As usual @nkeegan and thecouchpundit.podbean.com for more.