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Saturday 1 November 2014

Kidney's confident his men will start to click

THE first enduring memory of this November international was Ireland hooker Richardt Strauss throwing himself mouth-first into the national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann.

IT WAS not hard sell to the Irish people. It simply all boiled down to the commitment of a man, who had to leave his homeland to realise his dream on the other side of the equator. And he is here to stay.

"He went off and he learned that off his own bat. He told you (the media, on Thursday) he wants to get citizenship. He wants to be here.

"He has uprooted himself. How many Irish is there abroad, 80 million? He's just on the reverse end," said Ireland coach Declan Kidney.

"He has gone very well. He got a right 'dunt' in the first play of the game. There were a few stitches to his lower lip. He will get stronger and stronger as time goes on."

Another man who took a fair few digs even before the Ireland-South Africa match got under way showed that he too can be a valuable asset for a country short of them.

Profit

New Zealander Michael Bent made his Ireland debut in the 71st minute. On arrival, he was turned sideways and driven up by his new Leinster teammate Heinke van de Merwe at his first scrum.

Less than a minute passed before he returned the favour to Van de Merwe for the substantial profit of a penalty allied to pats on the rear from Donncha O'Callaghan and taps on the head from Chris Henry.

The impact was immediate. In combat, you take your friends where you find them, especially if they are in front of you on the battle line.

"We got pinged on two scrums previous. In fairness, he has come from nowhere. He had to come in. He held up his front and managed to get a penalty off one of them," stated Kidney.

Maybe, just maybe, the harsh reality of life at this level is that this Ireland too needs to draw on the 'diaspora' spread around the globe.

Certainly, Kidney needs all the assistance he can take as he bids to turn around a grave statistical fact of five straight defeats on the bounce. He is in a perilous position.

"There is the experience of understanding that test matches take approximately five twists in every game. It is for fellas to learn from that experience," he reflected.

Ireland simply could not keep the pressure on a monster South African side that wore them down through brutal confrontation.

"What we were doing in the first-half wouldn't necessarily apply in the second-half and we had to come out with the smarts to make sure it doesn't happen," Kidney said.

"That is not through lack of effort. It is through experience. There is a level of frustration. They are still confident in what they're trying to do.

"I know they're going to click. You just have to stay the pace with it. It will turn. It is a learning process. It is a tough one. But, I've been down this road before."

Often described as the most successful coach in the history of Irish rugby, Kidney will need call on all his guile to get out of this stew.

Ireland cannot just turn back to the players that weren't there on Saturday. They have to look forward and they can do so with a degree of optimism.

Full-back Simon Zebo was not exposed playing out of position against the best kicking country in world rugby. He was also keen to counter.

He did enough to stay the course for Argentina when Ireland must react positively: "It is huge when you consider the world rankings and us wanting to be in the top eight.

"We are so self-driven. None of the players accept losing in the dressing-room. It is something we need to remedy," he offered.

We just need to stay positive, not feel too down about it, just keep working on our patterns, our shape, where we want to end up as a side come the end of the year."

Zebo had a back seat view of what was happening in front of him. It didn't prevent him from offering straight and appropriate reasons for The Springboks comeback.

Sucked

"In the second-half, we were in the wrong end of the field playing ball. We just got sucked into their game plan," he said.

"They know how to squeeze teams. They know how to put the muscle on, play how they want to play with their forward pack dominating.

"They like those bruising runners off ten and off nine. They slowed down the game and sucked us into doing that. It just seemed like we got sucked into a dead game of rugby."

How right he was. South Africa were distracted from their primary goal in the first-half as a nasty under-current crept into the game. Late hits and sly shots were frequently their only tactic.

Their coach Heyneke Meyer hit them with a volley of sharp words at the interval. After that, there was intent. There was direction.

There were points from the power game triggered by captain Jamie Heaslip's sin bin. The Springboks didn't need to be asked twice to go for the jugular.

Ireland had to swallow 10 points in the time Heaslip was cooling his heels. The physical strength of South Africa began to tell a tale, turning Ireland over around the fringes and replacement Heinke van der Merwe drawing a dubious penalty out of Mike Ross.

Then, Leinster's Van der Merwe convinced referee Wayne Barnes that Ross had sinned again. Lambie smacked South Africa four points clear.

And that was it.

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