Ireland defeated world champions South Africa 15-10 on a foggy night at Croke Park to end the year unbeaten. For the Springboks, who also lost to France, the narrow defeat capped a miserable autumn series.
AFP - Six Nations Grand Slam champions Ireland ended their year on a suitably high note here on Saturday with a commendable 15-10 victory over world and Tri-Nations champions South Africa for their third successive home win over the visitors.
Ireland's young fly-half Jonathan Sexton - preferred to 93-times capped Ronan O'Gara - kicked all their points while Schalk Burger got the only try of the match for the Springboks, who ended their long season on a low note with just one win in five matches on their northern hemisphere tour.
The opening few minutes saw more action than both England and Argentina managed in a whole match a fortnight ago as a knocked on ball from a promising move by Ireland's back division ended up with Morne Steyn missing a drop goal.
A few minutes later and some of the bitterness left over from the Lions tour of South Africa spilled over with fullback and man of the match Robert Kearney getting involved with Heinrich Brussow.
South Africa had all the early pressure but a mistake in midfield led to Ireland being given a penalty in the 10th minute and Sexton converted it to give the hosts the lead.
The Springboks bounced back and Burger burst through to possibly become the least welcome try scorer at Croke Park - as it was his gouging of Irish winger Luke Fitgerald in the first Lions test that earned him an eight week ban - and he exacerbated his unpopularity by kicking the ball into the stand earning himself a round booing by the normally genteel crowd.
Steyn converted to make it 7-3.
The Irish were not helped by the fact centre Paddy Wallace was forced to play on for five minutes when he was patently injured and his replacement Gordon D'Arcy was waiting on the sidelines but referee Nigel Owens allowed play to carry on which resulted in Steyn landing a drop goal.
Sexton reduced the deficit to four points in the 30th minute with a penalty that crept in at the far post but it was no more than the hosts deserved after a sustained bit of pressure.
Irish wing Tommy Bowe was fortunate to get away without conceding a penalty try when the 'Boks launched a fluent back move and he brought down Jaque Fourie, who was running onto the ball.
Steyn then missed two penalties shortly before half-time and one just after the break when South Africa had to replace Zimbabwean-born prop Tendai Mtawarira, who was playing despite the Sports Ministry saying he wasn't eligible as he is not nationalised yet.
Sexton showed admirable coolness when he landed a penalty from just inside the Springbok half in the 48th minute after Steyn was penalised for a high tackle on Brian O'Driscoll.
Sexton then put Ireland into the lead with 30 minutes remaining with a beautifully converted penalty from wide out on the right after lock Andries Bekker had been penalised for putting his knee into the back of flanker Wallace.
The Irish had their tails up but some sustained pressure didn't yield a try and Sexton then missed a kickeable penalty on the hour mark leaving the Springboks only two points behind, though, Steyn's mediocre afternoon came to an end as he was replaced by Ruan Pienaar.
The South Africans were clearly rattled nevertheless and a scintillating back m ove by the Irish saw Keith Earls almost regather his kick ahead into the try zone and the normally placid scrum-half Fourie du Preez reacted by shoving him petulantly away.
Sexton returned to form by putting Ireland 15-10 up with 14 minutes remaining as Victor Matfield was penalised and to cries of 'hurry up' the Leinster man landed the three points.
Pienaar had the chance to bring it back to two points difference but his penalty came back off the right post and Ireland cleared the ball into touch.
Sexton had a glorious chance to give the Irish an eight point cushion five minutes from time but he failed to connect properly and sent it wide of the posts.
Date created : 2009-11-28