By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland coach Andy Farrell praised his “outstanding” pack for emerging from one of the toughest tests in world rugby against the always physical Springboks with a 19-16 victory that added to the top-ranked team’s growing momentum.
In a relentless first period on Saturday, Ireland went toe-to-toe with a South African forward pack that loves to grind down opponents, before striking first in a more open second half and remaining resilient to rack up another big win.
After playing scintillating rugby to give New Zealand their first back-to-back home defeats in 24 years in July, Ireland had to adapt their game for the world champions with pure guts seeing them through, captain Johnny Sexton said.
“We’ve got resilience, guts, character… Wow, I thought the character of the side was immense,” Farrell added, describing the bruising encounter as “a proper old-fashioned test match”.
“The character that our lads showed, some of them having not played much rugby at all, bit of adversity with injuries etc and then not missing a beat with the first game of the season. To say it’s pretty pleasing would probably be an understatement.”
Farrell singled out scrum coach John Fogarty and forwards coach, former captain Paul O’Connell, for praise.
“The forwards, these are the type of games they want to be involved in, to test themselves and to a man they all stood tall. They were outstanding tonight.”
South Africa captain Siya Kolisi and coach Jacques Nienaber said Ireland fully deserved their win, with Nienaber saying the attacking game Farrell had fine-tuned in recent outings could disguise how strong Ireland can be up front.
Nienaber was left to rue his side’s goal-kicking after flyhalf Damian Willemse struggled early on before handing over kicking duties to fullback Cheslin Kolbe, who was unable to convert either of South Africa’s two late tries.
“If people look at it, probably they’ll say that’s the difference between the two teams. Johnny also missed a kick or two but he nailed the big ones. It’s something we will keep working on,” Nienaber told a news conference.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Clare Fallon)