Ireland produced a perfectly composed and controlled performance to record a record 38-3 win over the Springboks as the Castle Lager Outgoing Tour started in the worst possible way in a bitterly cold Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday night.
The loss was on par with the 57-0 defeat against the All Blacks just six weeks back and raised massive questions about the coaching team at the start of a long tour that could well become a nightmare if any of these performances are repeated in the next three weeks to come.
There is no sugar coating it. It was one of the poorest Springbok performances of all time, and one which will reverberate around the world, as the Boks will need to do some massive soul-searching this coming week as they head to Paris for a tough gig next weekend against France.
On a night where the Boks had promised a similar performance to the one-point loss to the All Blacks at Newlands, they produced just the opposite. They were outplayed in every aspect of the game and instead of bursting onto the field full of fire and passion, it was the Irish who were both passionate and controlled, and played the perfect game plan to exploit so many of the Bok mistakes on the night.
It started with the loss of Coenie Oosthuizen just a minute in when the big prop was injured in the first tackle. It was a massive tackle from Bundi Aki, and signified just how firey the Irish were to be on the night.
Sadly, the Boks were nowhere near the same level of intensity, they were nowhere near the same level of commitment. And if they were aiming to repeat the performance of Newlands, they failed horribly in the opening minutes, and that set the tone for the night.
Add to this a general impotence on attack – a backline that has struggled to fire all season – and an inability to control any ball in the air, and Ireland were set up for the win of their lives, and delivered a hammer blow to the Boks' hopes of finishing the year on a high.
It started with the scrum giving away more than its fair share of penalties – starting with two players who had just returned from injury as opposed to the two in-form youngsters, and then continued into the general malaise that found the Boks so wanting in every other aspect in the game.
But it was worse than that. The Boks were outplayed and out-muscled, and found themselves playing a poor second fiddle at the breakdown, where the Irish forwards ruled supreme. Ben O’Keefe allowed more than the normal leeway at the breakdown, but the Boks should and could have adapted. They didn’t and as a consequence could build no momentum.
Then there was the kicking game. Coach Allister Coetzee’s decision to stick with Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies backfired as both were poor in their execution of the kicking game, with less than a handful of kicks finding their mark while every Irish up and under was contested – exceptionally executed by Conor Murray, who has to be the best tactical scrumhalf in the world at the moment.
Both Cronje and Jantjies only offer a one-stop option, with the ball being moved laterally down the line and no sign of a dart, a grubber or anything else that would go against the script.
Murray was Fourie du Preez-esque as he peppered the Boks in the air, and not one of the back three took one ball in the air on the night – not just a cause for concern for the coaching staff but likely to be a target area for all the teams the Boks will face in the weeks to come.
It was there that the Boks struggled, at the scrum, the breakdown and under the high ball. Three key elements that turn any rugby game, and three areas in which the Boks were exceptionally poor on the night.
There were chances – Damian de Allende inexplicably kicked the ball poorly to the Irish fullback with a four on one situation in the first half, while Siya Kolisi’s pass could have found Courtnal Skosan had he been on his shoulder when it was delivered with an overlap and an open tryline. Both were lost opportunities. In contrast, the Irish never lost an opportunity.
Where the Boks should have been looking to build an innings, it was Jonny Sexton’s boot that gave Ireland a 9-0 lead early on before they had really done anything. Simply capitalising on the Bok scrum and mistakes gave them a beautiful head-start.
And then when Murray angled a perfect up and under that Skosan dropped while three teammates within catching distance looked on, it was Irish winger Andrew Conway who pounced to rush down the sideline to score.
Up 14-0 at halftime simply by being clinical and exploiting mistakes, Ireland continued their charge as the Boks became more desperate.
A lone penalty in the second half gave them some purpose, but there were too many errors. Too many dropped balls and lost breakdown battles for them to gain any momentum.
And when the last 10 minutes came, the Boks fell apart.
Rhys Ruddock barged his way over from close range in the 70th minute, before Cape Town born Rob Herring grabbed one with five minutes to go out on the wing.
The final nail in the coffin, however, was left to Jacob Stockdale out wide to score on the final whistle, and leave Dublin a happier place as the celebrations broke out in the crowds.
The final whistle brought an end to the game that the Boks would much rather forget and a reality check of where the Springboks currently are.
With three weeks of touring left, that is a massive concern.
Ireland – tries: Andrew Conway, Rhys Ruddock, Rob Herring, Jacob Stockdale. Conversions: Johnny Sexton, Joe Carbery (2). Penalties: Sexton (4).
South Africa – penalty: Elton Jantjies.