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Defence was key to mastering Springboks, says Ireland captain Best

Ireland 38 South Africa 3

By Jonathan Bradley

Despite the final flurry of tries that pushed Ireland into record-breaking territory against South Africa, the man with the widest smile in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night may well have been defence coach Andy Farrell.

When these sides first met in 1906, tries were worth three points and a conversion two but in 111 years since, never before had Ireland held the Springboks to as low a total as they did in the 38-3 triumph.

While the opposition were a pale imitation of the side who once struck fear into the rugby world, the intensity in Ireland's work without the ball was a sight to behold in this first clash of the Autumn series.

The visitors attacking issues were obvious for all to see in the first half when Damian de Allende opted to kick ahead with two extra men on his outside, but it was still impressive to see how Joe Schmidt's men denied the two-time World Cup winners space.

Speaking in the aftermath, it was certainly the aspect of the performance that most pleased skipper Rory Best, with his side's intent evident from the first minute when debutant Bundee Aki smashed the unfortunate Coenie Oosthuizen.

"Faz (Farrell) has pushed for us to be attacking when the opposition have the ball," said the captain.

"We know how dangerous they are when you give them time and space. By and large we were smart in there in defence.

"There's always room for improvement, but it is a focus for us and something we work hard on. It's something we can be reasonably happy with. In terms of the start for us, it really gets you into the game. The line speed for the hit, then the scrum, it was a great start."

Both coach Joe Schmidt and man-of-the-match Johnny Sexton said the 35-point winning margin, which was more than double Ireland's previous best against South Africa, flattered the hosts, but their side's dominance was quickly evident.

While their early scoring came via penalties from Sexton's boot, when Andrew Conway scampered over for a first Test try following South African indecision approaching a bouncing ball, Ireland were more than good value for their 14-0 half-time lead.

With fourth place in the world rankings at stake, the game meandered through the half hour either side of the break, but when Allister Coetzee's men did threaten, the Irish forwards were on hand to force critical turnovers at vital times.

CJ Stander and Rory Best both pilfered great ball from the deck, while Iain Henderson was in dynamic form throughout the contest.

With the Ulster lock's memorable carry through Springbok captain Eben Etzebeth providing a highlight reel moment, his second-row partner Devin Toner felt the performance was indicative of Henderson's growing comfort on the big stage.

"Iain Henderson's turned into the enforcer he always had the potential to become," said Toner.

"When he was coming through we didn't call him the man-child for nothing, he's a monster in the gym and a monster on the pitch.

"And it's fantastic for Irish rugby that he's turning into that player we all knew he could become.

"When you have someone who is the talisman of Etzebeth, he's their captain, he's renowned for being their physical man on the pitch.

"So when you see Hendy stand up to him and get the better of him, it's amazing, it's brilliant and it gives your team a real gee-up."

When Ireland needed a similar moment in the second-half it was provided by the unlikely source of Jacob Stockdale.

A sizeable wing, but one hardly known for his physicality, the 21-year-old making his home debut showed Joe Schmidt what he can do without the ball as he drove Dillyn Leyds into the turf and dislodged the pill.

It was a moment that seemed to raise Ireland from the doldrums as they sparked into life for a three-try burst in the final stages.

Stockdale was front and centre in the creation of Rhys Ruddock's close-range score, before his Ulster team-mate Rob Herring, winning his second cap three-and-a-half years after his first, mauled his way over against the country of his birth.

Not to be outdone, Stockdale got across the whitewash himself in the dying seconds, taking his seasonal tally to six tries in seven starts for club and country.

"He's doing really well," added Best. "He definitely grew into the game as it went on.

"I'm sure he was nervous but he grew into the game well.

"Last year was relatively easy for him, he broke in, nobody knew much about what he did.

"Now people know a lot more about him, but he's still improving.

"It's not a case of getting things wrong and it's the worst thing in the world, it's how you deal with that, and he's doing that, it's good to see."

With Joey Carbery's conversion, South African's grim afternoon was complete but, Schmidt, as is his way, was not getting ahead of himself.

"You can only do what you can do and they did a really good job.

"I suppose if we'd really had to fight and get a two-point win, we'd be delighted as well.

"Sometimes when the score does get away it probably doesn't have the same value because you weren't under as much pressure.

"Now, we only really released the pressure in the last quarter.

"Until then, at 17-3, they score once and it gets to 17-10 all bets are off. It is a one-score game again.

"It was only towards the end we got away.

"That's the reality for us.

"The size of the win is not as relevant as people might think because we are always trying to look at our own performance in the context of what we were allowed to do, what our opponents did to pressure us and how we responded to that.

"I would have to say it is incredibly satisfying. It is a huge relief to have got the Guinness Series off (to a start) in the manner that we did because you are always chasing those first time results."

Ireland: Kearney; Conway, Henshaw, Aki, Stockdale; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best (capt), Furlong; Henderson, Toner; O'Mahony, O'Brien, Stander.

Replacements: Herring (for Best, 66), Kilcoyne (for Healy, 66), John Ryan (for Furlong, 70), James Ryan (for Henderson, 70), Ruddock (for O'Mahony, 50), Marmion (for Murray, 70), J Carbery (for Sexton, 74), Sweetnam (for Kearney, 74)

South Africa: Coetzee; D Leyds, Kriel, de Allende, Skosan; Jantjies, Cronje; Mtawarira, Marx, Oosthuizen; E Etzebeth (capt), de Jager; Kolisi, du Toit, Louw.

Replacements: Mbonambi (for Marx, 68), Kitshoff (for Mtawarira, 54), Louw (for Oosthuizen, 1), Mostert (for De Jager, 66), Cassiem (for Kolisi, 68), Paige (for Cronje, 72), Pollard (for Jantjies, 56), Venter (for de Allende, 56)

Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)

Man of the match: Sexton (IRE)

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