Ireland end year unbeaten with South Africa win
Six Nations champions Ireland beat World and Tri-Nations champions South Africa 15-10 in a battle of the hemispheres to extend their unbeaten run to 11 games at a foggy Croke Park on Saturday.
Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton, who made his debut against Fiji last weekend, delivered another nerveless display at flyhalf to kick all the home side’s points and make it three wins in a row against the Springboks.
South Africa had gone into halftime 10-6 in front thanks to a Schalk Burger try and a drop goal from Morne Steyn but the flyhalf’s costly penalty misses allowed his opposite number to quickly kick Ireland into a lead they never looked like losing.
The defeat completed a miserable tour for the Springboks, who also lost to France and saw their reserve team beaten by English club sides Leicester and Saracens with only a win over Italy to celebrate.
Leinster’s Sexton, who surprisingly kept regular flyhalf Ronan O’Gara out of the team after a man of the match display on his first outing, got Ireland underway by slotting a 10th-minute penalty from just inside the South Africa half.
However just as Australia did in the 20-20 draw at Croke Park two weeks ago, South Africa began to dominate Ireland in the scrum and three ferocious set pieces later had their first penalty.
Steyn decided to take it quickly, catching the Irish defence out to give South Africa a three-man overlap which flanker Burger opted against taking as he crashed over from close range.
Steyn slotted the tricky conversion and despite adding a drop goal eight minutes later, endured a torrid time kicking both from hand and the floor before being replaced after an hour.
Sexton was having no such problems as Ireland came back into the game, with mounting pressure offering the 24-year-old a second penalty which he dispatched with ease.
Steyn had two late chances to stretch South Africa’s lead back to seven, the first easier than a hopeful second, but came short with both.
He made it three misses in a row four minutes into the second half and was instantly made to pay by Sexton, his junior by exactly a year, who nailed two quick penalties to put Ireland ahead for the first time with 30 minutes remaining.
The hosts grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck from there on in and should have made more of a spell camped near the South African line, particularly when Sexton missed the first penalty of his international career just before the hour.
Ireland’s pack, who had suffered a tough day not only in the scrum against Australia, utterly dominated the final quarter and another Sexton penalty opened up a five-point lead with 15 minutes remaining.
Steyn’s replacement Ruan Pienaar faired no better with the kicking tee, hitting a post with his first and only penalty three minutes later while Sexton missed the opportunity to put more than a converted try between the sides shortly after.
That miss could have proved costly had a late South Africa burst gone a metre further but one last bruising tackle, typically from captain Brian O’Driscoll, sent the grand slam winners towards next year’s Six Nations on a high. - Reuters