Ireland launched their autumn series with a scintillating win that augurs well for next year's Six Nations and, more importantly, the 2007 World Cup. Victory over Australia in Dublin at the weekend could catapult Ireland into the top four of the International Rugby Board's rankings.
Everything functioned and everyone fired for Ireland on Saturday evening. There was dominance at the set-piece, control of the line-out, a thoughtful approach insqually conditions and pace and invention up the middle and out wide. The way the forwards and backs linked at times took the breath away, so sure were they with their handling, so confident were they going into contact.
But in the aftermath, caution prevailed. There was no boasting about what they would do to the Wallabies. Brian O'Driscoll, the Ireland captain, merely said it was "a better performance than two years ago".
The home guard was particularly pleased, however, with the way it dealt with South Africa's blitz defence. Ronan O'Gara, the fly-half, said: "That blitz defence is high risk for those who employ it, but it is difficult to play against. I think we picked the right holes in it tonight, but sometimes you can pick the wrong holes and you can end up looking stupid."
That did not happen to Ireland. The possession provided by the forwards was ably used by the backs. O'Driscoll singled out O'Gara for special mention. "I think a massive amount of credit has to go to 'Rog'," he said. "He had a big performance today. He controlled the game extremely well. He has become a vastly improved player in the last year."
O'Gara still needed those around him to translate his options into something more substantial. O'Driscoll himself benefited hugely from O'Gara's derring-do, as did the other backs, but O'Gara's modesty still showed through. "I missed a terrible tackle," he said. "That is my abiding memory of this game, so I am pissed off. It was when Jean de Villiers went straight at me - that's what I'll be taking out of this game."
He did make a wry reference to his own ranking in the world. "The challenge for me is to try to be the second best out-half in the world behind New Zealand's Daniel Carter. I mightn't get there, but I'll at least give it a go." Once he has seen the match video, O'Gara will realise he really did have a good all-round game.
He kept South Africa pinned in their own half, particularly before the interval when the wind was, generally, at Ireland's backs, and his service on the move sliced into the Springboks' inexperienced defence to open up space for his runners to torment a rookie back three.
South Africa now face a bruised and battered England over the next two weekends and their coach, Jake White, is expecting nothing less than a hard time. "Losing to Argentina and New Zealand in consecutive weekends does not make England a poor rugby team," he said, "and we know we haven't won at Twickenham since 1997."
By the same token, beating a largely experimental South Africa team does not make the Irish world-beaters. The Wallabies await, and Ireland have to do it all over again.
Ireland: Tries Trimble, D Wallace, Horan, Horgan; Conversions O'Gara 3; Penalties O'Gara 2. South Africa: Tries Steyn, Habana; Conversion A Pretorius; Penalty A Pretorius.
Ireland: G Dempsey; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy (all Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan (Munster), R Best (Ulster), J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (all Munster), N Best (Ulster), D Wallace, D Leamy (both Munster). Replacements: S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets) for N Best, 61; G Murphy (Leicester) for Trimble, 67; B Young (Ulster) for Horan, 67; I Boss (Ulster) for Stringer, 75; P Wallace (Ulster) for O'Gara, 79; M O'Kelly (Leinster) for O'Connell, 79; F Sheahan (Munster) for R Best, 79.
South Africa: B Fortuin (Free State); J Pretorius (Lions), B Habana (Blue Bulls), J de Villiers (Western Province), F Steyn (Natal Sharks); A Pretorius (Lions), R Januarie; L Sephaka (both Lions), J Smith (Natal Sharks, capt), C J van der Linde (Free State), J Ackermann, A van den Berg (both Natal Sharks), D Rossouw (Blue Bulls), J Smith (Free State), P Spies (Blue Bulls). Replacements: R Pienaar (Natal Sharks) for Januarie 4-9; J Muller (Natal Sharks) for Ackerman, 14; BJ Botha (Natal Sharks) for Sephaka, 40; J Cronje (Lions) for Rossouw, 67; W Olivier (Blue Bulls) for J Pretorius, 75.
Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).Reuse content