Ireland were beaten by South Africa in the third test at Port Elizabeth and lost the series. It was a disappointing end for a tour that opened so brightly in Cape Town.
I worried about the result from the anthems. The South Africans sang with full-throated aggression while the Irish were strangely silent. All the Irish emotion seemed to be on the terraces. On balance, the team that wanted it more, won.
Lots of excuses will be proffered why Joe Schmidt’s team played second fiddle for the last 120 minutes to a distinctly average Springboks.
In truth, Ireland were just more ordinary and once the home team got its morale sorted and established a conservative game plan instead of the tag-rugby rubbish of the first test, our goose was cooked.
Excuse number one, that the team were tired after the exertions at altitude does not hold water. It was not tired limbs, but poor tactics and skills that let the team down.
Time out of number, passes went astray or were dropped, players crashed and bumped in to each other and receivers took the ball standing and became easy meat for defenders. Incredibly, the coach who has made his name on a rigid and one-dimensional game plan gave his team licence to play to a style beyond them.
The Ulster mid-field axis of Luke Marshall and Stuart Olding flattered to deceive and yet again Schmidt’s selection errors were exposed when one thought of the damage that the sadly neglected Stuart McCloskey and Gary Ringrose might have done.
Olding never posed a real threat as an inside centre and the home defence held firm with little cause for alarm. Ireland went wide for the sake of going wide, when the game cried out for a power player in mid-field.
The coach’s appalling misjudgment on Jared Payne was only exposed by the enforced absence of Rob Kearney. Meanwhile, Robbie Henshaw’s early plane home exposed the paucity of the centre play when better options were available.
Allister Coetzee, the ‘Boks’ coach criticized the Irish style and then paid them the ultimate compliment by copying. Elton Jantjies and Lions teammate Ruan Combrinck kicked the leather off the ball, confident in a secure lineout and a dominant scrum.
Ireland never established dominance in the back row; C J Stander, huffed and puffed without making an impact and Jamie Heaslip was rendered impotent by Warren Whiteley.
Excuse number two, will centre on the yellow card for Willie Le Roux’s challenge on Tiernan O’Halloran. The cries went up from Irish commentators that consistency must apply. There would have to be “an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
Stander’s red must be avenged by a red for the Bok’s full back. There was simply no comparison between the two events and had O’Halloran not come down so heavily there might have been no censure at all.
Excuse number three, was the absence of so many top Irish players. In fact, with the notable exception of Jonathan Sexton, the Irish coach might have made more glaring errors in selection.
It will not be popular to suggest that Paddy Jackson should not have started, but Ian Madigan is being made pay a high price for going to France.
The critics have completely ignored the callous mistreatment of an outstanding talent by Leinster and Ireland. If Madigan had been treated with half the sympathy afforded to his Ulster colleague, we might have been looking at a different series result. I dream of a Madigan, McCloskey and Ringrose midfield with Matt Healy on the wing.
South Africa did just enough to win, but could have been pipped at the post if there was a shred of imagination left in the Irish locker in the frantic closing minutes. They reverted to type sending wave of one-man drives at the line which were comfortably repulsed by a home side that knows how to tackle.
November now beckons with New Zealand twice and Australia. The other games today were played at a pace and skill unmatched by the teams in Port Elizabeth. Even Wales in receipt of a drubbing were skilful and the Australia/England game simply set a new bar for rugby union.
Despite all the the hype Ireland are going backwards, playing an out of date game and it is sobering to think that we may be depending on the defensive coach to bring us success.
George Hook Pundit Arena