In Pictures: Ireland 15 South Africa 10
There are born leaders. There are recruits who show outstanding potential. There are battle-hardened men who never think of surrender, however intense the fire.
Ireland had each of those on Saturday, which meant that even though they were outscrummaged to an extent which at times was quite alarming, somehow they won the war.
Saturday proved that, whilst it defies convention and logic, a la Mick Doyle, rugby matches can indeed be won by a side whose scrum is inferior. Provided, that is, they have sufficient other weapons in their armoury.
For while their scrum squirmed, they had a better line-out, with Jerry Flannery, Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan combining to keep an essential supply line open.
In Brian O’Driscoll they had a talismanic captain who led his men from the front and by example.
Never was the point better proven than when, right at the death and with Springboks full-back Zane Kirchner seemingly certain to get through the Hill 16 end fog for what would have been
a score-tying try with a match-winning conversion to follow, |O’Driscoll — himself having just had treatment — nailed him with a tackle which was courage personified.
And in Jonathan Sexton Ireland had a marksman whose accuracy proved fatal to South Africa.
Having kicked a perfect seven out of seven in his debut against Fiji a week earlier, the Leinster out-half’s encore was four out of the first four in the first 51 minutes.
The last of that quartet edged Ireland into a 12-10 lead with half an hour to go and it proved to be the defining moment of a pulsating match played in near-freezing, foggy conditions.
In the dying moments it was hard to see what was happening out there.
Sexton gave Ireland a ninth minute lead, whereupon Schalk Burger waltzed through a chasm, off a scrum, to score a try which Morne Steyn converted to make it 7-3 to the Boks. Not a popular scorer, Burger.
As Paddy Wallace hobbled off to be replaced by Gordon D’Arcy after 24 minutes, Steyn dropped a goal to open up a seven-point gap which was trimmed to four when Sexton kicked a second penalty on the half-hour.
Ireland resumed 10-6 in arrears, the injured Stephen Ferris not having reappeared for the second
half, of which the first 11 minutes were to prove crucial. For while they saw Steyn complete a hat-trick of penalty misses, they also saw Sexton add to his embarrassment by landing two.
Finally, two misses by the Irish number 10 proved that he is mortal after all. But between those he struck again to cut South Africa adrift by five points.
Played 10, won nine, drew one, Grand Slam winners and victors over the Tri-Nations champions. What a year 2009 has been for Declan Kidney and Ireland.
“It would have tarnished the Grand Slam had we shown up this autumn and had a poor series,” said Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery.
“We've come a long way and I take satisfaction from the way things haven't dropped off after the Grand Slam.
“I was worried that might happen but the players and management took steps to ensure it didn't.
“We wanted to test to ourselves against South Africa to see how we are progressing as a team.
“This win is a big lift for us because we have massive respect for the Springboks — they're an awesome side. We're still no world beaters but we've progressed from the Six Nations. We're proud of what we've achieved.”