Ireland won a rugby Test in South Africa for the first time on Saturday, shrugging off the loss of flanker CJ Stander to a first-half red card to outfight new coach Allister Coetzee’s Springboks 26-20 at Newlands.
South Africa-born Stander was sent off on his return to his homeland for knocking flyhalf Pat Lambie unconscious with a flying charge-down attempt midway through the first half.
Undermanned for the best part of 60 minutes, and already missing a string of regulars for this three-test tour, Ireland held out for a victory in the series opener that will rate as one of its gutsiest and best ever.
“What a way to make history, by having to do something special,” Ireland captain Rory Best said.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was full of praise for his side.
“For the players, I think they can be incredibly proud of the effort they put in,” he said.
Fullback Jared Payne crossed early for Ireland and scrumhalf Conor Murray bounced out of a tackle to score the second try at the start of the second half.
Ireland even held out South Africa with 13 men for the last 10 minutes of the first half after centre Robbie Henshaw’s yellow card.
“We were poor. No excuses. We understand. We’ve got to fix it,” Coetzee said of his first game in charge of South Africa.
Coetzee’s appointment in April was greeted by a wave of positivity and excitement in South African rugby, only for his reign to begin with an historic loss.
“There’s no reason to panic. We just have to get it flippin’ right next week,” he said.
South Africa made errors, but it wasn’t just a rearguard effort from Ireland.
The Irish made all the running in the first 20 minutes, scored first in the second half, and registered points regularly through the boot of flyhalf Paddy Jackson, who collected 16 points on his first start this year after regular No.10 Jonathan Sexton was ruled out of the series with injury.
With South Africa becoming more and more desperate at the end, replacement lock Pieter-Steph du Toit’s interception try out of the blue closed the gap to three points for the home team at 23-20 with 12 minutes to go.
Under immense late pressure, Ireland still didn’t cave, and Jackson replied to that try with a late penalty to cap his display.