Ulster captain Paddy Wallace cut a forlorn post-match figure as he hobbled towards the Irish team coach in the bowels of Croke Park on Saturday evening.
Using a crutch to support himself he managed a smile as he said: “I don’t know how bad it is, but I know it isn’t broken. I’ll have a scan on Monday and I should know where I am after that.”
Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin probably will not have enjoyed Ireland’s toppling of the World Cup holders and Tri-Nations champions as much as his Irish counterpart, Declan Kidney. For in addition to seeing Wallace limp off, McLaughlin will have been worried when Stephen Ferris failed to re-appear after the interval and when South African tight head, BJ Botha, exited with a second-half injury, leaving no Ulster players on the pitch.
Not that any of this spoiled the Irish celebrations in which three Leinster men were the toast of Dublin. The names of captain Brian O’Driscoll, fly-half Jonathan Sexton — who kicked all 15 of his side’s points — and Man-of-the-Match Rob Kearney were lauded on Saturday night in acknowledgment of the the parts they played in seeing off the Springboks.
O’Driscoll, who made a superb last-minute tackle to keep South African full-back Zane Kirchner out when it seemed he must score, was honest in his assessment.
“It was backs to the wall, bodies on the line stuff, but it was great to finish them out,” he beamed.
“In the first-half they really came at us, but Johnno (Sexton) was kicking the goals for us and keeping us on the scoreboard.
“Then in the second-half we played some great stuff and really had a cut at them. The players hung on to the death and didn’t give up easily. You always know you’re going to get a physical game off South Africa, but we were giving as good as we got.”
While Kidney savoured the moment — and reflected on a slice of fortune — he stressed the importance of not becoming carried away.
“They are World Cup holders and we really wanted to challenge ourselves against the best and see how we fared,” he said.
“They had a penalty that came back off a post. There is always very little in these matches and sometimes things fall your way.”
And in a clear reminder to his players that they will not be allowed to dwell on the achievements of 2009, Kidney added: “We’ll enjoy tonight, but we know there are going to be huge challenges ahead in the Six Nations come the New Year.”