Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll believes that his team have left behind a "dark place" after Saturday's 15-10 win over world and Tri Nations champions South Africa. The win was the Six Nations winners' 10th game without defeat which saw them end 2009 unbeaten, a far cry from their 22-3 loss to New Zealand a year ago that caused the Irish to re-evaluate their side.
"This win was very pleasing," said O'Driscoll. "It's all about continuing to progress. "We were in a dark place this time last year and we did a lot of soul searching and there was huge honesty. "To turn it around as quickly as we have done is a huge credit to everyone involved, not just players but management too. "It largely comes down to work ethic. It's hugely important that guys are prepared to put in the hours.
"It's a huge credit to everyone involved that we've gone a calendar year undefeated." Jonathan Sexton, making only his second Test appearance, kicked five penalties as Ireland clinched their third successive home win against the Spingboks, all of which have come in Dublin. But Ireland head coach Declan Kidney refused to sing the 24-year-old fly-half's praises too loudly, despite picking him ahead of the more experienced British & Irish Lions tourist Ronan O'Gara.
"We might have won by more if Ronan was playing. We said 12 months ago we're trying to develop a squad," he said. "We see it as a blessing that we have a world-class fly-half and an up and coming fly-half. We'll need both of them. "We finished the series with a win, which is good for confidence and we're looking forward to coming back for the Six Nations. "We'll enjoy tonight. It was a tough, physical game. The boys were tired but they played very well.
"We like to play these Tri Nations teams as often as we can. We learnt more about ourselves today." South Africa fly-half Morne Steyn missed three penalties and captain John Smit admitted his side needed to be more ruthless. "We created enough pressure in the first half and kept the scoreboard going," he said. "We wanted to do the same thing in the second half. We wanted to create pressure but didn't follow through.
"You have to kick your penalties. They took their chances but we didn't. "We did a lot of damage in the scrum and that gave us a huge amount of impetus. "But our line-outs and kicking let us down and ironically those have been our strengths this year." * PA Sport