Andy Farrell hails Ireland’s resilience in thrilling win over South Africa

Ireland players celebrate victory after the final whistle in the Rugby World Cup 2023, Pool B match at the Stade de France in Paris (Bradley Collyer/PA)
Ireland players celebrate victory after the final whistle in the Rugby World Cup 2023, Pool B match at the Stade de France in Paris (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Andy Farrell hailed the mental strength of his players after Ireland propelled themselves to the cusp of the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with a statement 13-8 success over South Africa.

The world’s top-ranked team took control of Pool B by edging an epic contest on a raucous Paris evening thanks to Mack Hansen’s try plus five points from Johnny Sexton and a late Jack Crowley penalty.

Reigning champions South Africa dominated the second half at Stade de France but Ireland doggedly held on to stretch their winning run to 16 matches and move within touching distance of the knockout stages.

Asked what pleased him most about the performance, head coach Farrell said: “Our resilience, which has been really good of late anyway.

“That was a proper game, a traditional game, it had absolutely everything, there were ebbs and flows, ups and downs and how we stayed on point mentally was fantastic.

“The game was never going to be perfect.

“First half, I thought we had the rub of the green as far as field positions is concerned and probably didn’t capitalise on that. Certainly it was roles reversed in the second half.

“But we kept our heads. Getting those couple of penalties at the end when it really mattered is the big plus side of our performance.”

Cheslin Kolbe’s second-half try and a Manie Libbok penalty kept the Springboks in contention before they fell agonisingly short in a nail-biting finale.

Jacques Nienaber’s side ultimately paid the price for a series of wayward kicks at goal, with Faf de Klerk missing two penalties and Libbok squandering a further effort, in addition to the conversion attempt after Kolbe’s score.

Ireland, who were vocally backed by an estimated 30,000 fans in the French capital, also survived a series of frustrating line-out losses.

“I think as the competition goes on, we’ll need to be better because, you know, there’s a few inaccuracies,” continued Farrell.

“But there’s always going to be that type of thing with games like this, especially with the pressure that South Africa put on you.

“We again were able to find a way and when you say it was an emotional game and how do we bottle that, we’ve gotten very good at not getting too emotional, making sure that we stay on task.

“So being given a game like that within the pool stage is great for us.”

Ireland have a fortnight’s break before finishing the group against Scotland and emerged from a bruising encounter relatively unscathed in terms of injuries.

South Africa head coach Nienaber conceded his side were second best but insists they can still retain the World Cup.

The Springboks, who recovered from losing to New Zealand in their opening match at the 2019 tournament to claim the title, take on Tonga next weekend.

Nienaber said: “Yeah, we can still (win the tournament). Obviously you have to (believe). We’re in this competition to win it.

“Teams that lose a game in the pool stages must work hard to get out of the pool, so definitely we can still win it.

“We played against the number one team in the world and we lost by five points and we had opportunity in the 79th minute to get a result.

“Hats off to Ireland, they were better than us on the night and that is the bottom line

“But that’s the number one team in the world and the margin is very small.

“We will have to work harder at the stuff that we weren’t good at. If we can fix that and we have a little bit of luck, we can win the World Cup.

“We missed a couple of points off the tee. I won’t say that was the reason solely for not getting over the line.”