Tommy Bowe insists that despite statistics pointing towards Ireland's worst losing sequence for 14 years, his team are refusing to panic. The injury-ravaged Irish were outfought 16-12 by South Africa in their Guinness Series opener, a result that raises the stakes yet higher for their critical showdown with Argentina in two weeks.
Leading 12-3 at the interval and playing all the rugby at the Aviva Stadium, they had the Springboks by the jugular. But they were overpowered in the second half as South Africa inflicted a fifth successive Test defeat on a team that Bowe insists is still in high spirits.
"There really isn't a feeling that the team is going through a difficult period," he said. "There's been a lot of confidence in the squad over the last couple of weeks.
"Everyone was upbeat and was looking forward to South Africa. I felt that we'd go after them and win – we'd targeted this match. Having lost it we'll have to reassess that. It was a disappointing defeat because we had set ourselves up perfectly in the first half. We've worked so hard to build a bond, get the intensity and accuracy up. It showed at times, but when it counted in the second half we weren't able to pull it out."
Ireland had won three of their last four Tests against South Africa and knew they had wasted a great chance to extend that recent mastery. Jona-than Sexton's four penalties were an insufficient return for their first-half superiority and once the canny Springboks cranked up their power game, Ireland were muscled out.
A pivotal moment was captain Jamie Heaslip's yellow card for collapsing a maul in the 43rd minute when Ireland led 12-3. In his absence South Africa scored 10 points to establish a lead they kept throughout a dominant second half. Heaslip later apologised for his indiscipline.
With Lions captains Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell injured, as well as the influential Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien, Heaslip will be looking to provide the inspiration needed against Fiji and Argentina.
At stake are ranking points crucial to next month's draw for the 2015 World Cup with defeat to the Pumas, convincing winners against Wales yesterday, potentially dropping Ireland into the third tier of seeds. The full-back Simon Zebo is confident they can avoid such a scenario.
"If we'd been battered by South Africa and lost the game with no chance of winning then we'd be feeling sorry for ourselves," Zebo said.
"But we had a great first half and were in touching distance throughout. There was just a little rustiness and hopefully we can remedy that in the next couple of weeks."
Ireland: S Zebo; T Bowe, K Earls, G D'Arcy, A Trimble; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; D Ryan, M McCarthy; P O'Mahony C Henry, J Heaslip. Replacements: M Bent for Ross, 71; D O'Callaghan for McCarthy, 71; I Henderson for O'Mahony, 71; E Reddan for Murray, 62; R O'Gara for D'Arcy, 75; F McFadden for Trimble, 59.
South Africa: Z Kirchner; JP Pietersen, J Taute, J de Villiers, F Hougaard; P Lambie, R Pienaar; CJ van der Linde, A Strauss, J du Plessis; E Etzebeth, J Kruger; F Louw, W Alberts, D Vermeulen. Replacements: H van der Merwe for van der Linde, 63; P Cilliers for Du Plessis, 56; F van der Merwe for Etzebeth, 71; M Coetzee for Veremeulen, 65.
Referee: W Barnes (England)..Reuse content