HISTORY at Newlands. Ireland have beaten the Springboks in South Africa for the first time and they did it the hard way after spending 58 minutes with 14 men due to CJ Stander’s first-half red card.
It was a remarkable display of courage from Joe Schmidt’s men who can now turn their attentions to winning the Test Series, something only New Zealand and the Lions have done in this famously difficult venue.
This isn’t a vintage Springbok team, but Ireland are missing a host of key players including their key man Johnny Sexton.
They made light of the list of absentees, with Paddy Jackson kicking 16 points in an excellent display, while Jared Payne was excellent at full-back and Luke Marshall won the man of the match award.
In truth, it could have been one of a host of players after a performance that will go down in the annals as one of the greats, if not the greatest.
Ireland opened brightly, with the South Africans’ showing the signs of their long wait for Test-rugby since the World Cup with an ill-disciplined opening quarter.
And the tourists took full advantage of their generosity, getting their maul going in impressive fashion to drive close to the line. The Springboks hauled it down, so Rory Best went again and when the drive came down, Ireland attacked with Iain Henderson carrying hard before Luke Marshall deftly chipped through for Jared Payne to score.
It was a double-blow for the ‘Boks who lost Lood de Jager to the sin-bin for his maul infringement and, although Pat Lambie got his side off the mark with a penalty, Ireland went back up the other end and Jackson followed up his earlier conversion with a successful penalty.
Things were going along nicely for Joe Schmidt, but then disaster struck.
As Lambie released an up-and-under, Stander launched himself into the air and, as he came down, his hip connected with his former U-20 team-mate’s head.
When play came to a stop, French referee Mathieu Raynal consulted with his television match official Jim Yuille and concluded that the Munster skipper had made no attempt to block the ball and was guilty of dangerous play and sent him off.
The challenge was certainly reckless and left Lambie needing a stretcher, but the red card appeared to be harsh.
Ireland faced a gruelling 58 minutes with 14 men and replacement out-half Elton Jantjes narrowed the gap with his first kick as the onslaught began and de Jager returned.
It got worse. With the visiting scrum in trouble and the hosts beginning to find joy from their maul, Jantjes delayed his pass beautifully to put Lwazi Mvovo over.
Robbie Henshaw absolutely levelled the Lions fly-half after he’d released the ball and he was shown a yellow card as Jantjes dusted himself off to convert the try.
Somehow, Ireland drew level before half-time as a well-executed power-play saw Luke Marshall find a gap, Andrew Trimble kept things going with some neat foot-work and Jackson dropped a goal.
And the 13 men managed to get to the dressing-room with parity on the scoreboard despite wave after wave of white jerseys attacking, with Conor Murray halting Duane Vermeulen’s march and Iain Henderson stripping the ball from de Jager before Jackson forced Mvovo into touch on the last play.
Whatever Schmidt said at half-time appeared to have an effect as, with Henshaw restored, Ireland struck for their second-try to the sound of stunned silence at Newlands.
Brilliant hands from Payne released Trimble down the right, Willie le Roux slapped down his pass but Rory Best picked it up well and surged forward. Conor Murray picked it up, slipped de Jager’s tackle and scored and when Jackson converted Ireland were somehow in front by seven.
The out-half was looking sharp and almost followed it up with a try when he stepped inside Frans Malherbe and chipped the ball over Faf de Klerk’s head, but he couldn’t beat the diminutive scrum-half in the race and the ‘Boks escaped.
The hosts were growing frustrated at their inability to make their numerical advantage count and, while second-rows Eben Etzebeth and de Jager made hard yards, Best managed to disrupt and Jackson could clear. Next time they came forward, the Ireland captain ripped the ball from de Jager’s grasp.
Allister Coetzee turned to his bench as his side looked to overpower the Irish, but Lionel Mapoe knocked on and again Ireland could clear.
Jackson even had a chance to kick his side further in front when Jamie Heaslip, Henderson and Devin Toner held Warren Whitely up in the tackle, the scrum forced a penalty but his long-range effort hit the post.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Ireland were applying pressure and when Le Roux knocked Henshaw’s grubber into touch, they had another opportunity with a 5m lineout but there was obstruction in the maul set-up and the chance went.
Still, Jackson was able to stretch the lead to 10 points with a difficult penalty after Frans Malherbe went off his feet and with 12 minutes remaining Ireland dared to dream of history.
They soon woke up. The out-half’s attempted pass to Jack McGrath was picked off by Peter Steph du Toit and the replacement second-row raced under the posts.
Jantjes converted and the gap was back to three.
Jackson missed a drop-goal attempt to extend it, but he nailed another tough kick after Malherbe yet again went off his feet at the breakdown.
Six points up, Ireland defended as if their lives depended on it.
There were echoes of the All Black defeat of 2013 as JP Pietersen went for the corner at the death, but a combination of Payne, Henshaw and Jackson forced him into touch as Ireland hung on.
SOUTH AFRICA – W le Roux; JP Pietersen, L Mapoe, D De Allende, L Mvovo; P Lambie (E Jantjies 23), F de Klerk; T Mtawariria (T Nkayane 59), A Strauss, F Malherbe (J Redelinghuys 78); E Etzebeth, L de Jager (PS du Toit 56); F Louw (W Whitely 56), S Kolisi, D Vermeulen.
IRELAND – J Payne; A Trimble, R Henshaw, L Marshall, K Earls (C Gilroy 77); P Jackson, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt) (S Cronin 70), M Ross (T Furlong 59); I Henderson (U Dillane 70), D Toner; CJ Stander, J Murphy (R Ruddock 74), J Heaslip.
Referee: M Raynal (France)