Result leaves Irish cautiously optimistic…
Not even a hard-fought, well-deserved Six Nations triumph could banish the memories of that agonising last gasp defeat to the All Blacks in the Autumn of last year for many Irish players and fans alike. There was still that lingering doubt as to whether or not this team could genuinely trouble the world’s best on the biggest stage. Saturday’s win over the Springboks should go someway to rid the team of any doubts that they can in fact compete with the best.
South Africa arrived at the Aviva with both the swagger of the best team in the world but most crucially, they had the results to back it up. Only last month they had beaten reigning world champions New Zealand in the Rugby Championship and many experts were proclaiming them the best around at the moment. To put in further context how impressive this victory is from an Irish perspective, it has been five years since Ireland had last beaten the Springboks and it’s the first victory over them by a Six Nations team since 2010.
Everything seemed to click for the Irish after surviving the South African onslaught in the first half. Helped by a degree of sloppiness throughout the ranks in the Springboks, Ireland were clinical, in particular Jonathan Sexton who successfully converted after both tries and punished South Africa further with 4 penalties. It was however, the ever reliable Tommy Bowe that made sure of the win for Ireland when he went over with just ten minutes to go. Sexton remarked after the game that this was a “complete squad performance”, and it had to be. This was not a full strength Ireland side by a long shot, making victory only more impressive.
Joe Schmidt and Ireland have managed to turn the feeling of doom and gloom surrounding their ever growing injury list into optimism that they now have a squad with plenty of strength in depth, capable of competing with anyone on their day. The key for Ireland will be making sure that they can produce this kind of result when it really matters, next Autumn for the World Cup.
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