Ireland and South Africa traded off lineout losses for goal-kick misses in an enthralling battle last Saturday night.
The World Cup holders faced off against the world's number 1-ranked side and it did not disappoint.
In any gargantuan battle, it takes wounded bodies, jawdropping work rate and fortuitous moments to get over the line - and Ireland certainly ticked all of those boxes.
Big moments win big games, and that's exactly how Ireland separated themselves from South Africa.
I don't think they got more calls from the referee, but the calls that they were slightly fortunate to get came at the right time, exemplified by the finish to the game when the ball emerging from the maul was just too late as far as referee Ben O'Keeffe was concerned.
There was a fear that South Africa might have been holding something back for this game and that they’d cause some form of chaos that Ireland couldn’t deal with.
That did not prove to be the case.
Both teams tweaked their strategies to try and catch each other out, which you would expect.
South Africa were quite up front in terms of their biggest strategy change: their 7:1 split on the bench.
With all the furore in the build-up to the match, we didn’t see the exact response that was expected from the 'Bomb Squad’. South Africa made four changes to the pack in the second half which saw RG Snyman and Jean Kleyn introduced to the pitch together, as well as Ox Nche in the front row.
It immediately resulted in a scrum penalty to South Africa, and the fear was becoming a reality for Irish supporters. However, Ireland continued to deal with what the South African pack threw at them.
The Springboks knew they had to change things up to beat Ireland. And it almost worked. If it weren’t for the inaccurate kicking of Manie Libbok and, arguably, the early blowing of a referee’s whistle at the end of the game, they'd have snuck it.
However, South Africa were guilty of their own mistakes, and the referee isn’t to be blamed for them.
They tried to catch Ireland cold from the first play by running the ball from their own 22 metre area.
Normally, South Africa set up their kick exit and play with absolute certainty. Faf de Klerk threw a big pass to speedster Cheslin Kolbe, who couldn’t retain the pass, and it showed that South Africa knew how much they needed to challenge Ireland if they were to win the game.
Maybe they feared the Irish counter attack which they’ve used like a setpiece starter play in the recent past.
Ireland also changed their game. We're used to seeing the Irish forwards carry from the middle of the pod of three. They also sweep the pass behind from the middle forward, passing on his outside shoulder, protected by the outside forward in the pod.
Jonathan Sexton usually receives that pass and moves the play to the next pod of either two or three forwards that carry through the centre of the pitch.
This time around we saw a longer pass to the outside forward from Jamison Gibson-Park. This was because Ireland would have been expecting their second forward to be targeted by the South African defensive pressure.
When teams come up against a variation of these three-person forward pods in the midfield, they will regularly put the first pod under pressure to slow down their go-forward ball. You would also see them rushing in behind to shut down the position that Sexton occupies.
By throwing the ball to the outside man, Ireland changed the picture for the defence. The outside forward then turned inside to sweep the pass to Sexton, who had taken a narrower line to hide himself from the outside defenders. He was then able to shift another pass in a clever variation of their usual shape.
Ireland changed the picture between their traditional setup and this newer variation throughout the game, but it was evident that they were trying to do something different to challenge the South African aggressive defensive line speed.
Initially, it felt as though Ireland got out of jail with South African kicking failing to win them the game. Libbok is one of the most accurate line kickers and phase play kick passers too, but his goal kicking and kick restarts have let him down in terms of letting Ireland off the hook in the pressure game that South Africa play.
However, Handre Pollard might not run the team in the same way that Libbok does so it’s not a foregone conclusion that Pollard would play if these teams manage to meet again.
Once the tension and nervousness settled down after the game, it was clear that Ireland didn’t fully perform either. It was not a case of South Africa letting them off the hook.
I don’t think you’ll see Ireland’s lineout operating that inefficiently again. Hopefully Dan Sheahan will stay fit from here and Ronan Kelleher will be back into his rhythm having been out of this standard of Test arena for a while.
There’s no doubting the strength of South Africa’s defensive lineout but you’d think that Ireland will either fix some of the issues that occurred or choose a different strategy when it comes to their attacking lineout.
The South African defensive pressure meant that Ireland had to carry in unplanned places at times which disrupted the flow of their attack. It forced Ireland to play from much slower ball with average ruck speeds of over four seconds when they’re used to playing with the ball from rucks that are less than three seconds.
It has a knock-on effect because the defence has more time to set up and continue the slower ruck speed as well, generating fewer attacking opportunities.
Both teams missed opportunities that would ordinarily lead to tries. Caelan Doris uncharacteristically knocked the ball on near the South African goal line, following a Garry Ringrose pass to Hugo Keenan for a threatening line break. It was cancelled out by Jesse Kriel offloading on the Irish line which you wouldn’t normally see from a South African goalline attack.
The teams almost negated each other, however Ireland claimed some of the big moments like the maul stop at the end of the match and the Andrew Porter scrum penalty on Frans Malherbe to put five points between the teams.
It was great to see such an eagerly anticipated fixture capturing the rugby world. It was a hard-fought battle that wasn’t decided by cards and refereeing decisions.
With biases aside, most of the rugby population are hoping for these two teams to meet again in the final of the tournament. I don’t think we’re any the wiser as to who would win that game and there’s a lot of rugby to be played in between if we’re to get a rematch.
It might only be a pool match and it only stands for four pool points, but it’s advantage Ireland from a psychological perspective.
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Watch the Against the Head panel on Ireland v South Africa (above)