Gutsy 14-man Ireland wins test in South Africa for 1st time
Ireland won a test in South Africa for the first time on Saturday, shrugging off the loss of flanker CJ Stander to a first-half red card to outfight new coach Allister Coetzee's Springboks 26-20 at Newlands.
South Africa-born Stander was sent off on his return to his homeland for knocking Boks flyhalf Pat Lambie unconscious with a flying charge-down attempt midway through the first half.
Undermanned for the best part of 60 minutes, and already missing a string of regulars for this three-test tour, Ireland held out for a victory in the series opener that will rate as one of its gutsiest and best ever.
"What a way to make history, by having to do something special," Ireland captain Rory Best said.
Fullback Jared Payne crossed early for Ireland and scrumhalf Conor Murray bounced out of a tackle to score the second try at the start of the second half. Ireland even held out South Africa with 13 men for the last 10 minutes of the first half after center Robbie Henshaw's yellow card.
"We were poor. No excuses. We understand. We've got to fix it," Coetzee said of his first game in charge of South Africa.
Coetzee's appointment in April was greeted by a wave of positivity and excitement in South African rugby, only for his reign to begin with an historic loss.
"There's no reason to panic. We just have to get it flippin' right next week," he said.
South Africa made errors, but it wasn't just a rearguard effort from Ireland.
The Irish made all the running in the first 20 minutes, scored first in the second half, and registered points regularly through the boot of flyhalf Paddy Jackson, who collected 16 points on his first start this year after regular No. 10 Jonathan Sexton was ruled out of the series with injury.
"He did some super stuff," coach Joe Schmidt said. "He controlled the first 20 minutes of the game. We actually built our confidence through that period."
With South Africa becoming more and more desperate at the end, replacement lock Pieter-Steph du Toit's interception try out of the blue closed the gap to three points for the home team at 23-20 with 12 minutes to go.
Under immense late pressure, Ireland still didn't cave, and Jackson replied to that try with a late penalty to cap his display.
That gave the Irish a little breathing space heading into the final minutes but the visiting team's huge spirit was embodied in a last-ditch, try-saving tackle in the corner after the final hooter on Springboks wing JP Pietersen. More than one brave Irish defender bundled him out as he looked to ground the ball. If Pietersen had squeezed his way over, South Africa would have had a goalkick to steal the game.
Ireland didn't deserve to lose after being the better team for the opening stages and leading 10-3 after Payne, playing out of position at fullback, chased down a chip through to score.
Stander leaped high in the air in an attempt to charge a kick from Lambie, and connected heavily with the Boks No. 10's head with his hip. Lambie lay motionless on his back, and Stander was shown a straight red card. Coach Schmidt called that "very, very harsh."
Ireland conceded a try to wing Lwazi Mvovo soon after the red card, yet the Springboks rarely broke the Irish defense and never broke their spirit.
"For us, it was about the way we stood up," Best said.
The Irish victory followed on from England's win in Australia earlier Saturday, giving the northern hemisphere teams — who all failed to make the Rugby World Cup semifinals last year — a successful day on tour in the south. Wales also pushed world champion New Zealand close.
Asked if the results heralded a "turning of the tide" in international rugby, Schmidt responded: "I don't know ... you can get knocked over by a freak wave in this game."