Opportunity lost? This was arguably one of the worse South African sides in the history of the professional game but Ireland conspired to loss this series. This 19-13 loss exposed areas of play regardless of the personnel not at Joe Schmidt’s disposal that have plighted the team’s performance for the entire season.
When Joe Schmidt and coaching staff reflect on this contest, they will be happy with how the three quarters went. Luke Marshall and Stuart Olding provided creativity and ability to break the game line throughout.
Marshall’s try was opportunistic in nature; spotting fly-half Elton Jantjies in a poor defensive position took his man on and scored unopposed from short range. The lead-up to the try was excellent from Ireland; quick ruck ball and runners receiving the ball with pace leaving the Springboks scrambling to retain their defensive shape. A quality score and one that gave Ireland a deserved 10-3 lead.
Jack McGrath was superb. His ball carrying resulted in endless game line yard gains. McGrath in the absence of Cian Healy has grown into the prop position and is the default pick for Schmidt going forward. Healy may have explore his options and a switch to the other side of the scrum could be an option provided that his injury woes are addressed.
The second row partnership of Toner and Henderson continues to prosper. Henderson’s manic work rate and aggression with ball in hand and defensive duties set the tone for the rest of the pack. Toner at lineout is a joy to watch, reliable lineout ball winner even though Ireland were forced to throw first in the line given Etzebeth influence in this area (second and third lineout pods). Ireland’s lineout though limited in pod options was solid and set a good platform for Murray and Jackson to launch Ireland attacks.
CJ Stander. His work rate and ability to srifle South Africa ruck ball was evident throughout. The South African native showed little mental scars from his controversial red card two weeks ago with an action packed performance.
Stander was ably assisted by Heaslip who was calmness personified; tackle count and work rate high. The lack of a mobile seven who could compete consistently at the breakdown was highlighted in the last quarter when the Springboks started to take control of the breakdown area. Murphy tried hard but he was blown out of the breakdown area by Louw. Kriel would have had a field day if started.
The Ireland scrum was in trouble as it was last weekend in Pretoria. Mike Ross as an international prop looks numbered; constantly put on the back foot by ‘The Beast’ throughout and at times lucky not to be pinged further which would have led to a near certain sin bin appearance.
Tadgh Furlong’s cameo was encouraging but there are question marks on the Wexford’s native ability at scrum-time, a penalty concession deep into the second half does not provide convincing evidence that Furlong has where with all to dominate in the set piece even though his mobility and work rate is beyond reproach.
There is a massive massive issue in how the professional game is being officiated. Two weeks ago, CJ Stander was sent off for a hit on Patrick Lambie. Stander was in mid-air, failed to protect his opponent in the air and paid the consequences. Willie Le Roux cleaned debutant Tiernan O’Halloran in mid-air and failed to protect the Connacht player coming down.
A red surely but the scenes which happened after brought the game into disrepute. For a TMO to claim that O’Halloran landed on his back was down right wrong. The TMO shirked responsibility. Glenn Jackson was forced to issue a yellow card but it highlighted the lack of consistency when incidents such as this take place. Raynal and Jackson’s rulings in recent weeks has caused massive confusion on what constitutes a red card? Lack of credibility in match officiating after this sorry saga.
There is an issue with captaincy after this match. Rory Best is a standout player but his leadership was lacking during the pivotal O’Halloran incident. No pressure applied to the match officials to issue a red; gave the match officials an easy pass when you consider how the South Africans rounded on Raynal on the CJ Stander red card two weeks ago. Leadership maybe in the dressing room but in the heat of battle, it looked quite lacking. Food for thought for Schmidt and management.
South Africa stifled Ireland quick ball in that second half. The breakdown became messy and unfortunately no go forward ball was generated. It exposed back row imbalance and Ireland were pinged for going off their feet on several occasions, a sign of Ireland being put under immense pressure in this department.
Unfortunately, Ireland unforced error count was too high in that second half to win this test match. Lack of communication was seen on several times with players not expecting passes or not calling for marks.
The last ten minutes was frantic. Sean Cronin burst deep in Ireland territory and pass to Jackson provided momentum but there was a lack of ingenuity to breakdown a resolute South Africa defense who looked exposed on the flanks.
A diagonal kick from Jackson perhaps? No, that was executed by South Africa. The Luke Marshall forward pass to Earls in the opening period came back to haunt the team. A tour which could have produced much more than the series result.
Schmidt and team have learned plenty but fundamental questions still remain despite the players putting their bodies on the line.