Ireland secure brilliant victory over defending World Cup champions South Africa
Ireland propelled themselves to the cusp of the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with a gripping 13-8 win over reigning champions South Africa on a raucous evening in Paris.
Mack Hansen’s try and five points from Johnny Sexton helped settle a thrilling clash between international rugby’s top two teams at a sold-out Stade de France.
Replacement fly-half Jack Crowley added a late penalty as Ireland stretched their winning run to 16 matches to take control of Pool B.
Andy Farrell’s men also retained top spot in the global rankings ahead of the defeated Springboks, who now have work to do against Tonga next week to avoid early elimination.
Cheslin Kolbe’s second-half try and a Manie Libbok penalty kept Jacques Nienaber’s side in contention before they ultimately fell short in a nail-biting finale.
Pre-match talk was dominated by South Africa’s bold call to name an imposing seven-one split of forwards and backs on their bench – a decision head coach Nienaber called a “calculated risk”.
Ireland impressively defused the so-called ‘Bomb Squad’ to bring the knock-out rounds within touching distance.
Both sides arrived in the French capital with back-to-back wins on the board.
An estimated 30,000 Irish fans were expected among a capacity crowd for one of the most eagerly-anticipated group-stage matches in World Cup history.
That approximate figure seemed on the low side amid deafening noise in Saint-Denis further fuelled by a frenetic start of big hits and end-to-end action.
Ireland initially began on the front foot but, following a bold decision to kick for the corner, failed to capitalise on a couple of promising line-outs before falling behind to a Libbok penalty.
The set-piece struggles persisted and only some dogged defensive work, including Bundee Aki’s crucial tackle on Jesse Kriel, stifled the Springboks.
Farrell’s men continued to show plenty of attacking enterprise and were rewarded in the 33rd minute when sustained pressure led to Hansen capping a sensational team move by crossing on the right.
Captain Sexton calmly slotted the extras to ensure the Six Nations champions ended a breathless opening period of ferocious physicality 7-3 ahead.
Ireland have had the upper hand in this fixture in recent times, including a 19-16 Dublin success in November, but South Africa – tournament winners in 1995, 2007 and 2019 – hold a vastly superior World Cup record.
The unrelenting pace resumed following the interval and, amid further line-out issues, Ireland’s deficit was almost cut to a single point when Faf de Klerk’s penalty from halfway struck a post.
Yet South Africa seized on the loose ball from that missed kick and penned back their opponents before Kolbe touched down on the left to put his side 8-7 in front.
Fly-half Libbok was off target with the conversion and Ireland snatched back the lead going into the final 20 minutes thanks to a Sexton penalty.
South Africa turned to their stacked bench, including introducing Jean Kleyn, who represented Ireland at the last World Cup, in a bid to make the difference.
Irish indiscipline was in danger of proving expensive, with those in green relieved to see Libbok and then De Klerk squander further penalties.
The Springboks enjoyed the better territory and possession in the second period.
But Ireland, helped over the line by three points from Crowley, doggedly hung on to make a major statement moving towards their Pool B finale against Scotland in a fortnight’s time, while leaving the title holders with plenty to ponder.