Ireland stand tall to end the Bok dream

Ireland 17 - South Africa 12
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The Independent Online

Ireland forged South Africa's ill-judged pre-match words into a steely response which sentenced the Tri-Nations champions to a dramatic defeat and shattered Springbok dreams of turning their Autumn tour into a Grand Slam.

Ireland forged South Africa's ill-judged pre-match words into a steely response which sentenced the Tri-Nations champions to a dramatic defeat and shattered Springbok dreams of turning their Autumn tour into a Grand Slam.

Brian O'Driscoll and his men were immense. They held out in a gripping finish that had all of Ireland on its feet, screaming and shouting their delirious delight. When referee Paul Honiss blew the final whistle, it heralded Ireland's first victory over South Africa for 39 years, and was only their second in all.

Springbok coach Jake White had his initial, reckless, disparaging comments about Ireland's players and Irish rugby in general rammed down his throat as 17 home boys out-played, out-thought and out-fought the much-vaunted Boks. But it was close, desperately close.

Among the Irish heroes mention has to be made of fly-half Ronan O'Gara, who scored all their points; O'Driscoll, who elevated centre play to hitherto unreachable heights, and makeshift international midfielder Shane Horgan, whose power-play up the middle had South Africa on the back foot almost every time he got the ball. Gordon D'Arcy was missed, but not by a lot.

The Ireland front row was an irresistible and an immovable force, the line-out was superb. Debutant Johnny O'Connor grew in assurance as the match wore on. But history will record them all as heroes. This was emphatically a team effort. One that was carried out at breakneck speed for pretty much the whole of the game.

There was almost too much going on at times. The home support could barely contain itself at each Irish foray into the Springboks' half. The only element of the match that was giving anything was the Lansdowne Road pitch, which was a mercy given the shuddering tackles that were being put in and driving bodies repeatedly into the yielding turf.

The action unfolded at an unbelievable rate, one that made enormous demands on the players' cardiovascular systems, not to mention the pulses of the fans. Predictably Ireland were in the faces of their opponents at every opportunity, and there were plenty of those.

Competition for every scrap of possession was ferocious, but it has to be said that the Springboks' defence looked unflustered when the pressure was on. Too often for Ireland the final, telling pass would prove wild, delivered with a rush of blood. And whenever they were in a position to counter, the Boks did so with a precision that spelled peril to the home team, who had only beaten South Africa once in the 16 meetings.

Centre Marius Joubert, left wing Ashwin Willemse and fly-half Jaco van der Westhuyzen all threatened at one time or another in a thrilling and thoroughly absorbing first half. But what was needed from both sides was a more clinical approach. Perhaps the pre-match verbal sparring had got to everyone - certainly emotions were running high in the Ireland camp during the singing of their national anthem; tears could be seen streaming down the faces of captain Brian O'Driscoll and prop John Hayes.

But during an express first half punctuated by frequent whistle-stops by the referee, there were just two moments of calm and at the centre of them was Ireland's O'Gara.

The first came in the 21st minute after Ireland had been awarded yet another penalty during a spell that had seen them kick for the line-out twice without getting anywhere against a stolid Springbok defence. Since O'Gara's first penalty kick in the 13th minute had been pushed wide, and presumably because the Irishman clearly decided a change was good as a rest, he made a crucial decision.

While South Africa's captain John Smit was still in the throes of relaying a warning from the referee about the Boks' infringing, O'Gara seized his chance. He tapped the ball to himself, set off, dummied outside and cut in before thumping the ball emphatically into the turf. The tourists were stunned. Smit protested vehemently to Honiss, to no avail. The score stood. The only consolation for the aggrieved South Africans was that O'Gara missed the conversion.

There was no quibble about the next Irish score, which countered a penalty by Percy Montgomery. Again the man at the core of calmness was O'Gara. When the ball came back for the umpteenth time O'Gara, standing snugly and deep in the pocket, barely bothered to look up, he simply dropped the ball and swung his right leg through to meet it on the half-volley and land a copybook drop goal.

He followed that up after the interval with two penalties, either side of a second by Montgomery. That second O'Gara goal was as a result of an act of rashness by the influential Schalk Burger, who was dismissed to the sin bin for a quick, and illegal, grope for the ball at a ruck. This, his second transgression of the tour, arguably cost his country the Grand Slam.

Ireland: G Dempsey (Leinster), G Murphy (Leicester), B O'Driscoll (capt), S Horgan, D Hickie (all Leinster), R O'Gara, P Stringer (both Munster), R Corrigan, S Byrne (all Leinster), J Hayes (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), J O'Connor (Wasps), A Foley (Munster). Replacements: M Horan (Munster) for Corrigan, 69; E Miller (Leinster) for O'Connor, 75.

South Africa: P Montgomery (Gwent Dragons); B Paulse, M Joubert, D Wet Barry (all WP), A Willemse (Lions); J van der Westhuyzen (NEC), F du Preez (Blue Bulls); O du Randt (Free State), J Smit (Sharks, capt), E Andrews (WP), B Botha, V Matfield (both Blue Bulls), S Burger (WP), AJ Venter (Sharks), J van Niekerk (WP). Replacements: C van der Linde (Cheetahs) for Andrews, 71; G Britz (Free State) for Burger, 16-24.

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).

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