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Peter Bills: Ireland a total mess on and off the pitch

Question. Was this just one of those days as far as Irish rugby was concerned? A day when no-one had actually wanted to get out of bed and subsequently played most of the Test match like it?

Because unless Ireland believe they can get away with only playing for 12 minutes at the end of a game, how did they expect to win with this apology for a performance?

Singling out individuals might seem unfair. After all, most of the Irish team were unrecognisable as their true selves. But coach Declan Kidney has to be alarmed at the way tight head prop Tony Buckley buckled in the scrums. Paul O'Connell was cruelly missed and at half-back Eoin Reddan gave away one try and was far too loose in his play.

He brought no structure to the chaos and the ball handling of the Irish players was atrocious.

Ireland had few forwards of the ball carrying quality of South Africans like 'Beast' Mtawarira and Juan Smith.

Nor anyone of Victor Matfield's considerable presence. The Springboks, even with their patched-up side which only arrived in Dublin from Cape Town 48 hours before the game, was able to enjoy calm control until the final minutes.

To make the South Africans, battered from pillar to post in the Tri-Nations this year, look so superior, took a bit of doing.

Even some South Africans had to shake themselves and look twice. They haven’t enjoyed this type of mastery in Test rugby for more than 12 months and that is a long time in the modern game.

If you believe that players receive their vibes from the crowds that watch Test matches, then you have a ready explanation for this disturbingly poor display. With thousands of empty seats and the IRFU too scared to announce an official attendance, the atmosphere was as flat as a pancake.

Imagine spending all those millions on a new home, planning a grand party and inviting the world champions.

And, both on and off the field, you muck it up to this extent. Sadly, that was the harsh truth of the new Aviva stadium on Saturday evening.

It was a disaster all round for Irish rugby.

Only in the dying minutes, when Springbok coach Peter de Villiers again made some completely wrong substitutions that let Ireland back into the game, did the home side begin to make a match of it.

Prior to that, for an hour or more, this patched-up, makeshift South African side was under no serious threat from the home team.

De Villiers’ record on substitutes is decidedly dodgy; he almost let slip the Springboks’ first Test victory against the Lions in 2009 in Durban, and had to rush his captain back on in the dying moments to steady the wobbling ship. He was at it again on Saturday night; Morne Steyn, Jean de Villiers, Jannie du Plessis and Bakkies Botha were all removed prematurely and Ireland so nearly made him pay for it.

But two men remained. Both stood head and shoulders above anyone Ireland could offer on the night and they steered the South Africans home to an unexpected victory. Victor Matfield’s calm reading of the play ensured he was the only one who got across to keep Rob Kearney wide out near the corner after he had crossed the line for his try.

Matfield alone seemed to know the conversion was key and he kept it difficult for Ronan O’Gara.

Ultimately, that decided the game, although Matfield did an awful lot more than that on the night. His excellence was omnipresent and so too was Juan Smith’s.

South Africa go on to Cardiff this week to play Wales. But where Ireland go from this hapless display, who knows?

Belfast Telegraph

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