O'Driscoll's brilliance proves Irish have nous to match the passion

Ireland 17 - South Africa 12
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The Independent Online

The shock waves from Ireland's momentous win over the Tri-Nations champions are still reverberating around the Emerald Isle, creating a wave of expectation that only a fool would dismiss.

For too long the Irish have relied on passion to underpin performance. While other sides have concentrated on the more prosaic aspects of Test preparation, they have pumped themselves full of Celtic pride and counted on raw courage to see them through. It has worked - over the years they have pulled off famous victories against all odds - but those triumphs have generally served only to paper over the cracks.

Now it can be stated with confidence that this wondrous tradition is undergoing a makeover. The passion is still there, the pride too, but now when the green-shirted crazies have a go their every action is cloaked in the clinical and the pragmatic.

The howls of protest when Eddie O'Sullivan whisked his crème de la crème away for 10 weeks at the start of the season in order to build bodies, confidence and a structure to raise Ireland to ever higher levels, will rapidly turn into cries of congratulations and pleas for more of the same.

"There was a lot of flak about the 10 weeks," said O'Sullivan, "but we had been to South Africa and we had seen what we had to do. We struggled physically against them. We knew we had to get stronger in order to compete. To beat the Boks you have to stand up to them physically, match fire with fire. After that you can play rugby. And I feel we matched them today." But they have done even more than that, according to O'Sullivan, a man most certainly not given to hyperbole.

"We've been chasing England for years and I think we are getting closer," he said. "I remember Clive Woodward saying we were two years behind them. I took that as a compliment." The gap can be measured in months now. The enforced switch of Shane Horgan into the centre paid dividends, the Wasps flanker Johnny O'Connor covered himself with glory on his Test debut, Ronan O'Gara scored all of Ireland's points from fly-half and the captain Brian O'Driscoll underlined his status as the most exciting and accomplished centre in the world.

So whatever else the victory did, it proved that Ireland are most certainly fit to unlace South Africa's boots - once said footwear has been removed from the mouth of their coach Jake White - and share the stage with the game's big boys now that they have learned to channel their precious passion and aggression.

There is little doubt that White's rash statements of last week, questioning Ireland's relevance and standing in the world game, coupled with last summer's whine about Ireland's ability, stirred up Irish passions.

"Jake White's words were used as a bit of a motivational factor for us," said Geordan Murphy. "And I think what was said in South Africa in the summer about Irish rugby was a bit upsetting, especially when they were asking: 'What have Ireland ever done?'" Murphy, whose first-half ankle tap that felled Percy Montgomery with the Irish line at the Springbok full-back's mercy sparked the seismic shock, added: "Maybe they will be eating a lot of those words tonight."

The Boks probably choked on them. This win ended four decades of misery for Irish sides against South Africa. The last and only time Ireland won was back in 1965.

South Africa have urgent problems with the Test against England at Twickenham six days away. Schalk Burger, their prodigiously talented open-side, picked up another yellow card for slowing things down illegally.

"Whether it was legal or illegal I cannot come down too harshly on Schalk because he went to make that tackle, otherwise they would have scored," said White. "He is a young guy and I do not want to destroy his enthusiasm or make him reluctant to do what he is supposed to do and have him standing off at the breakdown. I will sit down with him during the week and we will have a chat."

White felt the breakdown was not handled consistently by the referee, Paul Honiss, but the New Zealand official is consistent in another way. This was the eighth time in his career that he had been in charge of a Test involving Ireland. They have won every game.

Ireland: G Dempsey (Leinster), G Murphy (Leicester), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), S Horgan (Leinster), D Hickie (Leinster), R O'Gara Munster), P Stringer (Munster), R Corrigan (Leinster), S Byrne (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 (Newport-Gwent Dragons); B Paulse( Western Province), M Joubert (Western Province), D Barry (Western Province), A Willemse (Lions); J van der Westhuyzen (NEC), F du Preez (Blue Bulls); O du Randt (Cheetahs), J Smit (Natal Sharks, capt), E Andrews (Western Province), B Botha (Blue Bulls), V Matfield (Blue Bulls), S Burger (Western Province), AJ Venter (Natal Sharks), J van Niekerk (Western Province). Replacements: C van der Linde (Cheetahs) for Andrews, 71; G Britz (Cheetahs) for Burger, 16-24.

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand)