O'Gara misses and Ireland are pipped at the post

Ireland 21 South Africa 23
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The Independent Online

So, a brand-new start for the oldest international venue in rugby union. Just like the original launch at Lansdowne Road, the housewarmingparty did not have the champagne corks popping.

On 11 March 1878, Ireland were outclassed by an England XV inspired by Albert "Monkey" Hornby, a multi-talented figure who was England's cricket captain four years later when a defeat at The Oval launched the Ashes. Last night, in their £320 millionspace-age home, the 21st-century Irish were unable to tame a South Africa XV who were galvanised by Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira. Not quite.

Mtawarira, the loosehead prop who gave Phil Vickery such a hard time on the Lions tour last year, played a prominent part as the wounded Springboks – smarting from a dismal Tri-Nations and weakened by the loss of key players – pooped the Irish party. Tries by the flanker Juan Smith and full-back Gio Aplon put the world champions 23-9 up before RonanO'Gara, released from bench duty for a 100th cap, turned the tide.

The fly-half set up and converted a try for the wing Tommy Bowe in the 69th minute, and when the full-back Rob Kearney scored five minutes later, O'Gara was left with a conversion from the right touchline to tie the game. The centurion's effort smacked back off the right-hand post.

"The fact that we got beaten by two points was disappointing," said Ireland's head coach, Declan Kidney. "It was just unfortunate that we got ourselves 14 points down. It proved two too many."

It was unfortunate, too, that Ireland's state-of-the art home was some 16,000 shy of capacity – and that the world champions were some way short of full strength. Still, the South Africans were fortunate to have Morne Steyn on a record run of place-kicking successes in Tests. It took the Bulls fly-half six minutes to make it 39 in a row, nailing a penalty from the 22 metre line after the Boks had run through the phases, eventually drawing the Irish defence offside.

Ireland were guilty of attempting to force the issue in attack. When the loosehead prop Cian Healy knocked on while attempting a quick free-kick it was clear that Ireland were playing like Eric Morecambe at the piano – getting their notes in a somewhat disjointed order.

That was the case when they gained a first attacking platform: a line-out on the South African 22 in the 17th minute. Donncha O'Callaghan could only tap back loose ball to Eoin Reddan and the Leinster scrum-half threw a pass that was snaffled by Smith, who galloped 65 metres and rode a last-ditch tackle from Rob Kearney to score the first international try in Ireland's new home.

Steyn converted, making it 10-0 to the visitors and upping the ante on Brian O'Driscoll and his men. The pressure told when Jonathan Sexton pushed wide his first penalty attempt, although the young fly-half managed to regain his composure and bang over his next two efforts, either side of a 40-yarder from Steyn, all of which left the Boks 13-6 up at the interval.

It must have come as some encouragement to Ireland when Steyn hoofed wide a penalty from a similar distance at the start of the second-half, bringing his streak to an end at 41. Sexton narrowed the gap with his third penalty but the Springboks looked home and hosed when Aplon took a feed from Zane Kirchner and cut in from the left to score under the posts in the 65th minute.

Patrick Lambie, a replacement for Steyn, kicked the conversion, stretching the South African lead to 23-9. That, however, was not quite that for Ireland. Four minutes later, O'Gara – on for Sexton – chipped into the right corner and Bowe ran in the first Irish try. O'Gara kicked the conversion but when Kearney burst over on the right with six minutes to go the Corkman could not quite thread his kick between the uprights.

Ireland R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy (all Leinster), R Best (Ulster), T Buckley, D O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll (all Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), J Heaslip (Leinster), D Wallace (Munster). Replacements T Court (Ulster) for Buckley, 50; D Ryan (Munster) for M O'Driscoll, 63; P Stringer (Munster) for Reddan, 66; R O'Gara (Munster) for Sexton, 67; K Earls (Munster) for Kearney, 75.

South Africa G Aplon (Stormers); B Basson, Z Kirchner (both Bulls), J de Villiers, B Habana (both Stormers); M Steyn (Bulls), R Pienaar (Ulster); T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis (all Sharks), B Botha, V Matfield (capt), D Stegmann, P Spies (all Bulls), J Smith (Cheetahs). Replacements P Lambie (Sharks) for Steyn, 58; K Daniel (Sharks) for Stegmann, 66; A Jacobs (Sharks) for De Villiers, 68; C J van der Linde (Cheetahs) for J du Plessis, 70, F van der Merwe (Bulls) for Botha, 70.

Referee N Owens (Wales).