South Africa has produced a sensational final quarter performance to come from behind and secure a 32-26 series-levelling win against Ireland in Johannesburg on Saturday. The Irish specialised in the basics on a day when the Springboks struggled to build momentum, largely brought about by a series of handling errors, poor decision-making and a bizarre tactical kicking strategy, particularly in the first half. Ellis Park served up a particularly subdued atmosphere but the crowd mostly found its voice in the final 20 minutes as the home team rallied from 26-10 down to secure the win.
It all started so well for the Boks who led in the fourth minute thanks to an Elton Jantjies 49-metre penalty after the visitors were repeatedly pelanised at scrum time. The home side’s performance was characterised by aimless kicking away of possession. In the 12th minute the tourists drew level thanks to a Paddy Jackson three-pointer.
The northern hemisphere side led after 15 minutes thanks to another Jackson penalty. In the 18th minute the South Africans won a penalty and captain Adriaan Strauss bravely opted to go for the touchline. However from the lineout, centre Damian De Allende lost the ball forward, allowing Schmidt’s troops to hoof the ball clear of danger. The southern hemisphere team attacked from the resulting lineout and played some good phases as they neared the Ireland try line however another fumble, this time from Strauss, helped the Irish avert any danger. Handling errors were again proving to be the undoing of Coetzee’s men.
The Irish mauled their way to another penalty in the 23rd minute and Jackson made no mistake in securing a 9-3 advantage. Joe Schmidt’s flyhalf booted the tourists into a 12-3 lead. Jackson himself launched several kicks into Bok territory, but the significant difference was that the visitors’ backline backed it up by applying pressure on their South African counterparts. This was never more significant than the tourists scoring the first try of the night when again Jackson launched an up-and-under. Lwazi Mvovo buckled under the pressure from Andre Trimble and after Rhys Ruddock was stopped just short of the line, Devin Toner helped himself over the line. Jackson’s conversion made It 19-3 on what was turning out to be a miserable night for Allister Coetzee’s side. The half-time hooter ushered in a cacophony from the disapproving Joburg faithful.
South Africa seemed more determined after the interval but once again handling errors proved their undoing as the Ireland defence held firm. It took 16 second half minutes but the Springboks had at last crossed the white wash as Le Roux broke through the Ireland defence before sending home town hero Ruan Combrinck over in the corner. Combrinck’s Lions teammate added the sundries and it was 19-10 going into the final quarter. Jantjies was yanked off two minutes later, albeit temporarily, for Morne Steyn and the former Bulls man’s first act was to watch Jamie Heaslip fall over the line from an Irish maul from a line out, which was brought about by a penalty. Perhaps it could have been averted but for Tadgh Furlong charging down Faf De Klerk’s clearance. Nevertheless at 26-10 history beckoned for the tourists.
Although Warren Whiteley also scored a try for the Boks, Coetzee’s men seemed already done for and it brought little more than a degree of respectability to the score line. Pieter-Steph Du Toit also troubled the scorers with a five-pointer with ten minutes still to play, and suddenly it was game on at 26-22 to the Europeans. Stunningly with five minutes to play the hosts broke through again and this time it was De Allende who went over and made sure to touch down under the posts allowing Jantjies an easy conversion for a 29-26 lead.
When referee Angus Gardner blew his final whistle South Africa was 32-26 to the good and while it was a get-out-of-jail showing, it does bring about Coetzee’s first win as Bok coach and set the teams up for next week’s series decider in Port Elizabeth.
Photo credit: WESSEL OOSTHUIZEN / SASPA