Ireland’s youngsters shipped nine tries in this defeat against South Africa with the stamina sapping rigours of the tournament finally catching up with the Irish lads. However, despite today’s result, and whatever transpires on Sunday against Wales, Ireland can take a lot of positives out of their participation in this tournament.
This is exactly the sort of rugby that the Irish team needs exposed to as early as possible and irrespective of last nights score they now know they capable of mixing it with the best of their peers and, more importantly, should have a clear indication of where they need to improve to be competitive on the world stage.
This was the first match of this competition that I had the chance to watch up close and it wasn’t long before I was shaking my head in admiration at the power and pace of game, the speed of thought and movement from both sides was impressive and certainly doesn’t come across on the TV screens and neither does the intensity of the contact. Those were big hits going in from both sides with a ferocity that had more in common with a full blooded Heineken Cup match than the spirited efforts of a Schools Final.
Unfortunately for Ireland South Africa where just that millisecond quicker in most aspects of the game in a high octane opening quarter as they blasted their way to a 19 – 0 lead swarming over the contact areas and recycling the ball with a clinical efficiency.
Sure they got a few lucky bounces and a couple of interceptions, as the half progressed, with everything seeming to end up in the South African’s hands, but there are few teams that would have lived with the fired up Boks during the opening period.
A shell shocked Ireland refused to bend the knee and desperately tried to get a finger hold on the game and after a few breaks from deep Ireland got on the scoreboard with a penalty from James McKinney, on as blood replacement for the injured Jackson.
However, South Africa continued to get the rub of the green and notched another couple of tries taking the score to 31 – 3 at half time and leaving Ireland with a mountain to climb in the second half.
Ireland emerged from the tunnel to be roared on by the travelling support but any thought of a miraculous second half fightback were soon quashed with the Boks grabbing a quick try after the re-start moving the score to 38 – 3 and with a second try coming in the 55th minute a record breaking defeat looked on the cards with Ireland now trailing 45 – 3.
Both sides brought on a raft of replacements with Finlay Bealham and Alex Kelly getting their first outings this tournament. Interestingly McKinney came on at centre for Luke Marshall and with Patrick Jackson and McKinney combining well Ireland started to gain a level of parity.
Bealham stood out in the loose covering a huge amount of ground and after powerful run on the left Eoin McKeon forced his way over in the corner. McKinney missed the conversion by the width of the post but Ireland were pleased to be troubling the scoreboard again.
The pace of the game started to tell however as both teams began to slip off their tackles, but again, it was the Baby Boks who capitalised on the broken play with two more tries taking the score to 57 – 8.
Ireland did manage the final say with a McKinney chip puting Jackson through under the posts. The Dungannon youngster showing great determination to beat the defence to the touchdown. McKinney added the extras giving Ireland a smudge of respectability and taking the final score to 57 – 13.
South Africa: U Beyers; T Mbovane, J Taute, F Venter (P Jordaan 45), W Mjekevu; J Goosen (J Welthagen 55), P Rademan (L Jacobs 63); S Kotze, M Van Vuuren (M Mbonambi 40), N Schonert (JR Jenkinson 40); J Cook, E Etzebeth; F Kleinhans N Carr 70) , C Du Preez, A Botha (capt).
Ireland: Tiernan O’Halloran, Andrew Conway, Brendan Macken (James McKinney 48), Luke Marshall (Alex Kelly 45), Andrew Boyle, Patrick Jackson (McKinney 16-22), Kieran Marmion, James Tracy (Finlay Bealham 45), Niall Annett (capt), Tadhg Furlong (Conor Carey 45), Michael Kearney (Daniel Qualter 45), Iain Henderson, Eoin McKeon, David Doyle, Jordi Murphy (Shane Buckley 50).
Ireland now face Wales in Treviso on Sunday for the 7th place play off. KO 11.00am.