Searching for positives in Ireland’s defeat

After Ireland’s sixth straight loss, Killian Woods analyzes where it all went wrong against the Springboks and whether there are any positives to take from the game ahead of the next Test.

Ireland’s resurgent fight back late on wasn’t enough to see them overhaul the fourteen point lead amassed by South Africa. With neither side looking impressive, defensive naivety and general errors from Ireland helped the opposition on their way to a 23-9 lead from which the home side could not come back.

Here are some of the main talking points.

The Breakdown
Although Ireland’s pack managed to make life very difficult for the Boks at the breakdown, neither side was able to dominate this area throughout the game. As the visitors crept closer to the Irish try line, Jamie Heaslip, David Wallace and Stephen Ferris managed to slow down recycling of the ball, stifling Springboks scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar from providing quick ball.

Equally though, South Africa were their own worst enemies. Juan Smith and Pierre Spies were continually at fault for infringements at the ruck and gifted Ireland an escape route out of their own half.

In the second half, Heaslip became the villain as his repeated offences ranged from joining mauls at the side to illegally slowing down South African ball at the ruck.

The inability of either side to boss the breakdown hugely affected the flow of the game. Ireland will need to show considerable improvement against Samoa on Saturday if they are going to compete with New Zealand the following week.

Soft South African Tries
A mix of careless play and ill-disciplined defence from Ireland resulted in South Africa’s two tries. Juan Smith’s lucky interception during a period of sustained Irish pressure in the Springbok half was a difficult blow to take and took the steam out of Ireland’s attack just as they began to grow into the game.

Similar to the first try, carelessness again allowed the Springboks to cross the line. Ireland’s drift defence followed the run of Zane Kirchner towards the wing, opening a gap for full back Gio Aplon to run through once he received the inside pass from the outside centre. The naïve Kearney tracking the run of Kirchner was mainly at fault for creating the minivan-sized gap in the Irish defence, and it was disappointing to see Ireland cut open by the simple switch move that everyone learns at school.

O’Gara and Stringer introduction
As the game slipped away from Ireland, the introduction of a new half-back pairing was the clear catalyst for Ireland’s resurgent play in the final fifteen minutes. Ireland’s intensity benefited from the quick ball provided by Stringer and the daring risks taken by O’Gara to get Ireland back into the game.

His deft chip into the corner for Tommy Bowe’s try demonstrated the ambition and vision possessed by the Munster fly-half. Equally, his daring pass out towards the wing for Ireland’s second try was crucial in the build up to Kearney bringing Ireland within two points of South Africa. The failed conversion that followed Kearney’s try was probably his only negative contribution to the game.

Positives for Ireland
Declan Kidney highlighted after the game that apart from his side’s one lapse in defensive concentration, Ireland were solid overall. South Africa rarely had sustained periods of possession in the Irish half.

The scrum was also an area that has seen improvement since Ireland’s last outings. Tony Buckley matched the raw power brought to the game by Tendai Mtawarira and although he did not dominate his counterpart, the Munster tighthead managed to quell the Beast’s command in the scrum.

Another highlight for Ireland was the spark that Luke Fitzgerald brought to the team. Until the introduction of O’Gara and Stringer, the winger was the only Irish player who looked likely to breach the South African defence. His darting runs infield and willingness to take on defenders on the wing was always keeping the Springboks on their toes.

At the top level of international test rugby, any team has to have a spark in their play to succeed. Ireland lacked this instinctive edge at the moment and will need to cut out the unforced errors in their game. Saturday’s game against Samoa should see the team end their six match losing streak, but not without a fight, and further signs of improvement will be needed before the visit of the All Blacks.

By Killian Woods

2 thoughts on “Searching for positives in Ireland’s defeat

  1. I would regarding the lineout as a massive area for improvement, I understand we were facing one of the most successful lineout partnerships in world rugby in Matfield and Botha, but our inability to change lineout calls to short safe ball was astounding. Micko and Donnacha were equally responsible being senior members of the pack.
    The Beast is still trading on his reputation form the ’09 Lions tour, he is not the best scrummager in the world, relies on out and out power, Buckley should have been better prepared to counter this with a few tricks of his own.

  2. Completely agree. Victor Matfield cited after the match that Paul O’Connell was a massive loss to Ireland and his absence attributed to South Africa’s ability to dominate that area. As a pairing, Donncha O’Callaghan and Mick O’Driscoll just don’t cut it at this level.

    Then again, it is also harsh to measure them up to a second row partnership that has experience and countless amount of game time playing together over the years. Bakkies Botha and Matfield were always going to dominate and I don’t think Ireland were ever going to win that battle.

    On Mtawarira against Buckley, I really thought the latter held his own and was unfairly and incorrectly maligned for his performance. I fear Buckley is still a bit starstruck in International rugby and needs to challenge his opponents at this level rather than wait to be challenged.

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