DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland built on last year’s successful November series against the best of the southern hemisphere by recording their biggest ever victory over a dreadful South Africa side in a 38-3 hammering at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Looking set to lose out to the South Africans in the race to host the 2023 World Cup next week, Ireland took their revenge on the pitch and were superior all over against a team they could meet in the quarter-finals of the 2019 tournament in Japan.
Four penalties from Johnny Sexton and a first international try for Andrew Conway put Ireland in control before three tries in the last 10 minutes from Rhys Ruddock, Rob Herring and Jacob Stockdale completed South Africa’s wretched evening.
“To beat any southern hemisphere team is a big ask and to do it by that margin ... but I thought the new faces were outstanding and we were pretty clinical,” man-of-the-match Sexton said in a pitchside interview.
The hosts dominated up front early on, taking advantage of the loss of South Africa prop Coenie Oosthuizen to injury following a big first-minute hit from debutant Bundee Aki as Sexton kept the scoreboard ticking over with three penalties.
Ireland’s dominance at the scrum - with a rejuvenated Cian Healy making his mark in a rare big-game start - continued and the home side began to find more room out wide while easily stifling any counter-attacks with a high defensive line.
It was poor Springbok defence that led to the first try, letting an innocuous Conor Murray box-kick bounce 30 metres out and into the arms of Munster wing Conway, who darted in to make it 14-0.
Conway, winning his fourth cap, was particularly impressive among the inexperienced Irish players given an opportunity, with big winger Stockdale and New Zealand-born centre Aki very solid in defence.
A woeful first half for the South Africans was summed up just before the break when, closing in on the Irish line, flanker Siya Kolisi’s attempt to find a teammate drifted forward and out of play.
Elton Jantjies got the visitors on the board with an early second-half penalty but they continued to look more like the team who were hammered 57-0 by New Zealand in September than the one who lost by a point to the world champions last month.
Sexton restored the advantage with another penalty before the late flurry of tries, with Ruddock barrelling over first, followed by fellow replacement Herring and Stockdale, both of whom also scored for the first time for their country.
Ireland, who beat New Zealand for the first time a year ago, will expect to make it a clean sweep with tests against Fiji and Argentina ahead while South Africa will look to start again against France next week before travelling to Italy and Wales.
Editing by Rex Gowar, Neville Dalton