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Brent Pope: Schmidt master class


Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE


Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Over 130 tackles perfected, 40% of possession and a scrum in constant retreat, yet somehow Ireland pulled off one of the most remarkable wins in their history.

This will reverberate around the world of rugby and have the bookies for the upcoming World Cup re-thinking the odds.

South Africa came into this game in good health, maybe somewhat arrogantly using this match as a springboard for their World Cup aspirations. But they left the Aviva Stadium in a state of shock.

Ireland derailed them. The Springboks were simply outsmarted by a coach and a captain that had clearly done their homework so well that the second best team in the world had to revert to type in an attempt to win.

We had heard about South Africa's new dawn of rugby, but in the end they resorted to bringing on a host of aging players off the bench to simply crash and bash their way to an improbable late win.

Ireland were waiting for them all day, with a defensive game-plan that oozed bravery and organisation. Anybody that claimed to know about rugby would not have predicted this result. Yes, under Schmidt's astute tutelage Ireland would give a performance, but given the list of injuries, made even worse by the late withdrawal of Chris Henry, not many people gave them a chance.

In the end, a last-minute score by replacement winger JP Pieterson gave the visitors a more respectful looking scoreboard, but the damage had already been done, especially when South Africa were reduced to 14 men after a ill-disciplined tackle on Rob Kearney.


Could it have been different? Absolutely. South Africa should have made better use of their possession. Had they had a better scrum-half and had they put the ball into the corners and been more patient with their scrum, they could have won.

But they didn't. First, you have to have the ball to win, and while the statistics will show the visitors had plenty, it was slow and messy.

Ireland needed to start the game well, given that the Springboks were confident and had been together as a unit for the past few months.

For the first 10 minutes Ireland played like the All Blacks, hardly making a mistake, just what their coach had orderered. South Africa's scrum was not as dominant as many had thought early on, especially at tight head prop, where Jack McGrath was putting plenty of pressure on Jannie Du Plessis.

As it turns out Ireland's early scrum dominance in this area gave the Irish first blood with a simple penalty in front of the posts. South Africa soon started to warm to their task, and Ireland was blessed that the South Africans were making so many basic mistakes.

But Ireland were thinking smart, mauling well and defending with a clear system. After about 30 minutes Mike Ross understandably started to tire, and South Africa started to turn the screw in the set pieces.

But their scrum-half Hougaard was making a mess of things at the back of the South African maul, knocking the ball on three times when South Africa were within inches of scoring.

But the longer Ireland scrambled, especially at the breakdown, the more South Africa started to panic. Ireland were doing the simple things far better than South Africa, and despite playing second fiddle in many areas, were clearly the better coached unit.

Ireland had a clear plan, using good variations in the lineout, strong bodies over the ruck and the choke tackle to turn over any of South African close-quarter raids.

In Jonny Sexton, Ireland had the game's most influential player. Sexton is world class and kept Ireland in the game with his astute kicking, organisation of his backline and superb reading of the game.

Other Irish players that excelled in a superb 23-man effort, were the back row, Peter O Mahoney in particular, and international newbie Robbie Henshaw.

Last year, Ireland lay on the pitch distraught after losing to the All Blacks in the very last minute. This time, as Schmidt had promised, Ireland had learnt from that loss.

Yes, there are plenty of things to work on and to beat the third best team in the world, Australia, Ireland will need more possession and a better scrum.

But for now, Ireland will bask in the glory of a magnificent win. Can we start to dream? Why not.