The clock had ticked past 9pm in the main foyer of the Aviva Stadium and the last of the home players had headed through the exit door, Ronan O'Gara still cursing the 74th minute conversion that could have salvaged a draw from Ireland's homecoming to the rebuilt Lansdowne Road. "Sometimes they scrape in and sometimes they go wide," the veteran outside half said. "Today it hit the post."
Ultimately, it was the conversion of South Africa's second try that proved to be the difference between the world champions and their hosts. It was summarily despatched between the uprights by the young man who is seen as the bright new star in the Springbok firmament. While the natives in the 35, 515 crowd – 16,000 shy of capacity due to the Irish Rugby Football Union's £131-£166 double match-package autumn ticketing policy – were left wondering what might have been had O'Gara been collecting his 100th cap from the start, rather than as a 65th minute stand-in for Jonathan Sexton, the South African supporters were pondering what the future might hold for Pat Lambie, the baby-faced Bok summoned from bench duty for his debut at fly-half midway through the second-half.
Just turned 20, Lambie notched 25 points in a man-of-the-match display for the Sharks in their 30-10 Currie Cup final victory for Western Province before making the trip to Europe with a Springbok squad weakened by 13 first-choice absentees. Though the introduction of O'Gara turned the tide for Ireland who plundered late tries by Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney, the kid on the Bok showed some wherewithal of his own, dismissing a badly hooked penalty with a laugh and with a clinical execution of the 65th minute try he helped to set up for full-back Gio Aplon.
"It was a really good experience," Lambie said, after Peter de Villiers' team emerged from their prolonged dressing room celebration and traditional post-match kangaroo court.
It might well have been different. Lambie's father, Ian, is a Scot and happens to be a half-cousin of the celebrated Brown brothers, Gordon and Peter, who played for Scotland in the 1960s and 1970s. Peter made Scotland aware of his cousin's son's Caledonian qualification last year but as a born and bred Durban boy Lambie was never going to desert his homeland.
Ireland: Tries Bowe, Kearney; Conversion O'Gara; Penalties Sexton 3. South Africa: Tries Smith, Aplon; Conversions Steyn, Lambie; Penalties Steyn 3.
Ireland: R Kearney (K Earls, 75); T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (Capt), G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton (R O'Gara, 65), E Reddan (P Stringer, 65); C Healy, R Best, T Buckley (T Court, 51), D O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll (D Ryan, 63), S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip.
South Africa: G Aplon; B Basson, Z Kirchner, J de Villiers (A Jacobs, 67), B Habana; M Steyn (P Lambie, 59), R Pienaar; T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis (CJ van der Linde, 70), B Botha (F van der Merwe, 70), V Matfield (capt), D Stegmann (K Daniel, 65), J Smith, P Spies.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).Reuse content