The Springboks showed massive character to reverse a nine point deficit at half-time to beat Ireland by 16-12 at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday.
It was only the second time in their last five visits to the Irish capital that South Africa beat Ireland – in 2010 the Boks won 25-23, but the three Tests before that ended in victory for the Irish.
Springbok pivot Pat Lambie kicked three penalty goals and converted Ruan Pienaar’s try early in the second half. All of Ireland’s points came from the boot of flyhalf Jonathan Sexton, who punished the Boks with four penalty goals during a first half where they conceded too many penalties.
The upside was a faultless display in the set pieces – the scrums, lineouts and restarts – for the first time in 2012. It was also the second time this season that the Bok defence held firm and they didn’t concede a single try during the match.
“Our first-half performance was unacceptable and I had a few harsh words to the team,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer after the match.
“We conceded too many penalties and couldn’t get going. But I’m proud of this team. At nine points down we showed a lot of character to come back.
“This means more than when we beat Australia at home scoring five tries. It was a tough week – we lost Beast (Tendai Mtawarira) this morning and Gurthrö Steenkamp failed another fitness test. Add to that that Heinke (van der Merwe) hardly trained with us this week.
“This is a Test we would have lost earlier in the season. What we did in the second half was special,” the Bok coach concluded.
Commenting on the situation with Mtawarira, who withdrew from the Test due to illness on the morning of the Test, Meyer said: “It’s obviously a setback to lose one of your starting players a few hours before kickoff, but the player’s welfare will always come first for us.
“I thought the two guys that came in – CJ van der Linde and Heinke van der Merwe – did exceptionally well under difficult circumstances.”
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers agreed with his coach and praised his team for their performance after the break.
“Our play in the first half wasn’t worthy of a Springbok jersey, but the response in the second half was fantastic,” said De Villiers, who captained the Boks for the 10th time in his 82nd Test on Saturday.
“I said at the beginning of the tour that we needed to take it to the next level and I think we did that tonight.”