Ireland were in fine form in their opening end-of-year Test as they claimed a deserved 38-3 win over South Africa in Dublin on Saturday.
As the scoreline suggests, the home side delivered a dominant display as they controlled proceedings from start to finish and they eventually outscored their visitors four tries to none.
This was always going to be a difficult encounter for the Springboks but they have only themselves to blame for this defeat as they were outplayed in all facets of play.
They battled from the outset and their performance was littered with errors. The Boks’ game-plan was difficult to understand as it lacked creativity and there was no spark in their attack with the half-back duo of Ross Cronje and Elton Jntjies battling throughout.
By contrast, their counterparts, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton delivered a tactical masterclass and they were accurate in implementing their side’s game-plan.
The Springboks suffered an early setback when Coenie Oosthuizen was forced off the field in the second minute with a leg injury after going down under a challenge from Bundee Aki.
Two minutes later, Beast Mtawarira was blown up for illegal scrummaging and Sexton opened the scoring when he slotted the resulting penalty.
Ireland had the better of the early exchanges and it showed on the scoreboard as they were 9-0 up midway through the half thanks to two further penalties from Sexton.
First, after Lood de Jager was penalised for slowing the ball down illegally in the 15th minute and five minutes later, after Pieter-Steph du Toit infringed at a ruck.
The hosts were slowly taking control of proceedings as they dominated the possession and territorial stakes and, crucially, also winning the bulk of the collisions – best illustrated when Iain Henderson bumped off Eben Etzebeth in an earth-hattering second row confrontation in the 22nd minute.
Ireland’s dominance reaped further reward in the 25th minute when Murray launched a teasing box kick which Courtnall Skosan failed to deal with on the edge of the Boks’ 22. Andrew Conway gathered the bouncing ball and outsprinted the cover defence before crossing in the right-hand corner for the game’s opening try and the first of his Test career.
Sexton was off target with the conversion but Ireland continued to dominate as the half continued, although they would score no further points during this period and the teams changed sides with the hosts leading 14-0 at half-time.
The visitors dominated the second half’s opening exchanges, however, and eventually opened their account in the 44th minute when Jantjies landed a penalty after CJ Stander was blown up for a high tackle on Mtawarira.
Ireland replied with a Sexton penalty in the 57th minute, after Du Toit was penalised at a breakdown again, and although the next 15 minutes was an arm-wrestle, Ireland would seal the win with three late tries from Rhys Ruddock, Rob Herring and Jacob Stockdale.
Ruddock’s try was a special one as he beat Franco Mostert with a great side-step before crashing over in the 71st minute. This after an inside pass from Sexton to Stockdale in the build-up, tore the Bok defence to shreds. Stockdale offloaded to Conway, who was stopped close to the Boks’ tryline, and after another phase was set up, Ruddock rounded off with his superb finish.
That score knocked the wind out of the visitors’ sails but Ireland were far from finished. Five minutes later, South African-born hooker Herring powered his way over the whitewash off the back off a driving maul before Stockdale rounded off a superb backline move in the game’s dying moments to add the final nail to the Boks’ coffin.
Tries: Conway, Ruddock, Herring, Stockdale
Cons: Sexton, Carbery 2
Pens: Sexton 4
For South Africa:
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 John Ryan, 19 James Ryan, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Darren Sweetnam
South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Francois Louw, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth (c), 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Francois Venter
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Ian Davies (Wales)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)