Sex­ton leads hum­bling of Ire­land’s World Cup ri­vals

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - By Tom Cary at the Aviva Sta­dium

Joe Sch­midt, the head coach, had called for a big per­for­mance here to “really put the Ir­ish Rugby Foot­ball Union in the shop win­dow” when it comes to Wed­nes­day’s vote for the right to host the 2023 World Cup.

Whether this crush­ing win – Ire­land’s big­gest ever over South Africa by some con­sid­er­able mar­gin – makes a blind bit of dif­fer­ence to the out­come of that vote is highly de­bat­able.

World Rugby’s eval­u­a­tion com­mis­sion has al­ready spo­ken and it seems un­likely coun­cil mem­bers will dis­re­gard its re­port.

What it did high­light, though, was two teams go­ing in op­po­site di­rec­tions. Ire­land’s 35-point win­ning mar­gin more than dou­bled their pre­vi­ous best of 17 over the Spring­boks, set in a 32-15 vic­tory at Lans­downe Road in 2006. And it set alarm bells ring­ing for the Spring­boks who pro­duced one of their worst per­for­mances since Al­lis­ter Coet­zee took charge 18 months ago.

With Jonathan Sex­ton pulling the strings like a pup­pet mas­ter, and a nice blend of youth and ex­pe­ri­ence in the team, the hosts were su­pe­rior in al­most ev­ery depart­ment; at the set-piece, at the break­down, in their kick­ing game. Cer­tainly in terms of their dis­ci­pline.

“There are no pos­i­tives from our side,” Coet­zee said de­spon­dently. “We let our­selves down. We lacked pa­tience with our kick­ing game. Our break­down and dis­ci­pline was ter­ri­ble. We went 14-0 down and then it’s dif­fi­cult to play catch-up rugby.”

Coet­zee is a man un­der se­ri­ous pres­sure. For­mer Spring­bok prop Ol­lie Le Roux’s blis­ter­ing at­tack on him ear­lier in the week had been crass to say the least. Ar­gu­ing that Coet­zee had no right to coach his coun­try hav­ing never played for them was not only hugely in­sen­si­tive – Coet­zee was pre­vented from play­ing for his coun­try for the vast ma­jor­ity of his ca­reer due to apartheid – it was also a bo­gus ar­gu­ment. Only two World Cup-win­ning coaches played for their coun­tries, which sug­gests Test match ex­pe­ri­ence is hardly a pre-req­ui­site for a suc­cess­ful in­ter­na­tional coach.

Le Roux should have just fo­cused on Coet­zee’s coach­ing. South Arica looked poor here; passes straight into touch, fum­bled restarts, no co­her­ent strat­egy. Per­haps they were just con­fused by the clash of kits. Ire­land were wear­ing a bizarre pur­ply-green num­ber which made it hard to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the teams.

It did not seem to ham­per Ire­land, though. Young wingers Ja­cob Stock­dale and An­drew Con­way both made an im­pact, scor­ing a try apiece; Sex­ton and half­back part­ner Conor Mur­ray ran the show as they were al­ways likely to against the less ex­pe­ri­enced South African back pair­ing of Ross Cronje and El­ton Jan­tjies, es­pe­cially on a slip­pery wet sur­face.

The spine of Ire­land’s team is in­cred­i­bly strong. Sch­midt had no fewer than 11 Li­ons in his start­ing XV. But it was a debu­tant who set the tone for Ire­land in the first minute. Bundee Aki, whose se­lec­tion at 12 had reignited the de­bate over res­i­dency rules, teamed up with Sex­ton to put in a huge hit on Coen­raad Oosthuizen in the very first minute which caused the tight­head’s knee to jar and led to him be­ing car­ried off the field on a stretcher. “You never like to see that,” ob­served cap­tain Rory Best. “But it was a great hit.”

Ire­land then won a penalty from the first scrum – Tadhg Fur­long show­ing Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira no def­er­ence what­so­ever – from which Sex­ton booted the home side into an early lead.

Sex­ton soon had two fur­ther penal­ties as Ire­land took com­plete con­trol of the game, the Spring­boks seem­ingly pow­er­less to gen­er­ate any mo­men­tum.

Ire­land al­most had their first try with a smooth backs move off the train­ing field, which saw Sex­ton loop around the back of Rob­bie Hen­shaw and put Con­way into open space.

Con­way did not have to wait long, though; Mur­ray hoist­ing a per­fect upand-un­der from near the 10m line, South Africa’s de­fend­ers bungling the catch and the Mun­ster wing pluck­ing the loose ball out of de­s­pair­ing Bok clutches and sprint­ing home from 25m.

South Africa had 50 per cent pos­ses­sion in the first half but even when they did ap­ply a lit­tle pres­sure, Ire­land were able to re­pel them with rel­a­tive ease.

When Sex­ton con­ceded a penalty on the 10m line for a late, no-arms tackle, the Boks opted to kick for the cor­ner rather than goal. In hind­sight, they should have taken the points. Ire­land held them out, Fur­long manag­ing two tack­les in the space of a five sec­onds at one stage and CJ Stander pro­duc­ing an im­mense turn-over on the line which won him back-slaps all round, and that was ba­si­cally that. South Africa got some points on the board a cou­ple of min­utes into the sec­ond half, but they never looked like com­ing back into it.

Ire­land saved the best for last, three late tries putting their op­po­nents to the sword. First Rhys Rud­dock mus­cled his way over af­ter Con­way’s pow­er­ful run down the right flank. Then Rob Her­ring drove over from a close-range li­ne­out. And fi­nally Stock­dale got the try his mus­cu­lar per­for­mance de­served. Joey Car­bery, on for Sex­ton, even knocked over the con­ver­sion from way out on the touch­line.

“The score­line flat­tered us a lit­tle bit,” said Sch­midt. “I grew up watch­ing the Spring­boks be a pretty dom­i­nant team, and I don’t think this Bok team is too far away from that.”

It felt wor­ry­ingly like sym­pa­thy.

Touch­down: An­drew Con­way slides over the line to score Ire­land’s first try and give them a 14-0 lead over South Africa in Dublin

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