Rugby Union: Super Skinstad scalps angry Irish with a smile

Ireland 13 South Africa 27
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The Independent Online
WHEN A fragile truce was finally declared on this volatile reunion, Nick Mallett's first response was one of relief. The South Africa coach, unbeaten in his job so far, told the Irish: "Thank God you're not in our pool in the World Cup."

It was as much an observation on the physical intensity of the match as on the real enmity that exists between the teams. It surfaced during Ireland's tour to South Africa in the summer, particularly in the second Test in Pretoria, and more bad blood was spilled during the Springboks' victory on Saturday. Referee Clayton Thomas quickly became aware that not only was there no love lost between the players, but that they hated each other's guts.

The vitriol manifested itself in an almost non-stop slanging match. There were several flare-ups and Thomas issued yellow cards to Keith Wood, Reggie Corrigan and Adrian Garvey. Wood, whose commitment borders on fanaticism, was warned after jumping into a ruck knees first. Gary Teichmann, the Springbok captain suggested the hooker was a danger to life and limb.

"Would you like me to send him off?" Thomas asked Teichmann. Under the circumstances, the South Africans would have liked nothing better than to see the back of Wood. If red cards were issued for verbal abuse, the game would have been reduced to seven a side.

The exception to the bitterness was Bobby Skinstad, the remarkable 22- year-old flanker who destroyed Ireland in an explosive start to the second half. He spent most of the time playing with a smile on his face, but when you are as sublimely gifted as he is you can afford a sunny disposition. His mother being Irish may have something to do with it.

This wasn't so much a case of the best team winning as the best man. In a first half dominated by the onslaught of the Irish forwards, you would not have known Skinstad was playing. But for all their Herculean efforts Ireland found themselves behind at the interval, albeit only by a point at 7-6.

Then they discovered that a clone of Hercules was playing in the Springbok back row, not Johan Erasmus, not Teichmann, good as both those players are. After Percy Montgomery had kicked a penalty, Skinstad emerged wearing a vest with a large "S" for Superman on the front and in the space of a couple of minutes proceeded to fly over Dublin.

Mallett has flirted with the idea of playing Skinstad in the centre; he could probably play him anywhere. When Henry Honiball found the flanker in midfield near the half-way line, Skinstad took off with electrifying pace before swerving past Conor O'Shea to touch down at the post. All the Irish blood, sweat and tears had been transcended in a move worthy of any of the world's greatest threequarters.

It was a devastating blow from which Ireland never recovered. Two minutes later, from an even deeper position, the Irish pack was driven off their own put-in and Skinstad picked up. Once again there was an injection of pure pace almost impossible to defend against, resulting in a try for Joost van der Westhuizen.

The Springboks have officially called this the Grand Slam tour and England will have to produce a superhuman effort to deny them the quickest slam in history at Twickenham on Saturday and a world record 18 successive Test victories.

Ireland: Try Wood; Conversion Elwood; Penalties Elwood 2. South Africa: Tries Erasmus, Skinstad, Van der Westhuizen; Conversions Montgomery 3; Penalties Montgomery 2.

Ireland: C O'Shea (London Irish); J Bishop (London Irish), J Bell (Dungannon), K Maggs (Bath), G Dempsey (Terenure College); E Elwood (Galwegians), C McGuinness (St Mary's College); J Fitzpatrick (Dungannon), K Wood (Harlequins), P Clohessy, (Young, Munster), P Johns (Saracens, capt), M O'Kelly (London Irish), D O'Cuinneagain (Sale), V Costello (St Mary's College), A Ward (Ballynahinch).

Replacements: J Davidson (Castres) for O'Kelly 55, R Corrigan (Lansdowne) for Fitzpatrick 55, R Nesdale (Newcastle) for Wood 80.

South Africa: P Montgomery (Western Province); S Terblanche (Boland Cavaliers), A Snyman (Blue Bulls), C Stewart (Western Province), P Rossouw (Western Province); H Honiball (Natal Sharks), J van der Westhuizen (Blue Bulls); R Kempson (Natal Sharks), J Dalton (Golden Lions), A Garvey (Natal Sharks), K Otto (Blue Bulls), M Andrews (Natal Sharks), J Erasmus (Free State), B Skinstad (Western Province), G Teichmann (Natal Sharks, capt).

Replacements: N Drotske (Free State) for Dalton 10, A Venter (Free State) for Andrews 50, O le Roux (Natal Sharks) for Kempson 50.

Referee: C Thomas (Wales).