x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Lansdowne Road homecoming spoiled for Ireland

They slumped to a fourth successive Test defeat when their late fightback fell just short against South Africa.

Robert Kearney’s diving tackle fails to stop South Africa’s  Juan Smith from plunging over the line for a try against Ireland.
Robert Kearney’s diving tackle fails to stop South Africa’s Juan Smith from plunging over the line for a try against Ireland.

Ireland's homecoming to the redeveloped Lansdowne Road stadium ended in frustration as they slumped to a fourth successive Test defeat when their late fightback fell just short against South Africa yesterday.

Trailing 23-9 with 15 minutes to go, the appearance of Ronan O'Gara from the bench coincided with a scoring spree that almost reeled in the Springboks.

O'Gara, who was winning his 100th cap, teed up a try for Tommy Bowe with a crossfield kick and then supplied the scoring pass for Rob Kearney's touchdown.

Presented with a touchline conversion to level the match, the fly-half struck the crossbar and Ireland failed to trouble the scoreboard again in the remaining five minutes.

Elsewhere, Richie McCaw, the New Zealand captain, revealed the motivation of last week's shock defeat to Australia was the inspiration behind their win over England at Twickenham yesterday

After the 26-24 Bledisloe Cup defeat in Hong Kong last week, the All Blacks withstood a spirited second-half revival to beat England 26-16 in the opening match of their European tour.

Hosea Gear and Kieran Read touched down in the first 21 minutes as the rampant All Blacks threatened to overwhelm the home side, but New Zealand-born hooker Dylan Hartley reduced the deficit after half time.

England centre Shontayne Hape, a New Zealand rugby league international before switching codes and allegiance, thought he had dragged England to within a single score with a second-half try in the corner but it was disallowed on video replay.

Down to 14 men for a yellow card to Jerome Kaino, the southern hemisphere champions held on for a ninth straight win against England.

Errors by a relatively inexperienced home side gave Dan Carter the opportunity to kick three penalties for a final personal tally of 16 points and a first win in a campaign for a grand slam over the four home unions.

"The guys were really hurting after last week," McCaw said. "The way the guys stuck at it, we defended pretty well. We're still guilty of giving too many chances through our own mistakes.

"When you turn it over, England are good enough to put you under pressure, which they did. We got into a bit of an arm wrestle at the end, which is what we didn't want to do."

For England, full-back Ben Foden was a threat, prop Andrew Sheridan solidified the scrum on his return to the side after 20 months out, and the backs usually had several options as they moved the ball at pace on the occasions they did have possession.

"They want to use the ball from turnovers and whatnot and they certainly did that," McCaw said. "More than in the past, you know that if you give them the ball they'll use it."

"Defensively we were a bit sloppy," Nick Easter, England's No 8, said. "First tackles weren't sticking. We switched off for 10 minutes and you can't afford to do that."

Said Martin Johnson, the England manager: "We were rusty in all areas in some ways early on. To go from 14-0 to give ourselves a shot was good. But as a team we weren't at the races quickly enough to be in with a chance at the end."

Australia, meanwhile, weathered early resistance from Wales before pulling clear in the second half to open their end-of-year European tour with a 25-16 win yesterday.

It was Australia's second successive win following last Saturday's triumph over New Zealand in Hong Kong, and even though the team were not at their best in the Welsh capital, their backs were typically clinical, especially man-of-the-match Kurtley Beale.