10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
IRELAND 15 SOUTH AFRICA 10, Croke Park
Scorers: Ireland: Pens: Jonathan Sexton 5
South Africa: Try: Schalk Burger; Con: Morne Steyn; Drop: Morne Steyn
Jonathan Sexton coolly kicked Ireland to a deserved victory over South Africa as the Grand Slam winners concluded an unbeaten year by toppling the Southern Hemisphere's best at Croke Park.
Sexton, playing only his second Test, kicked five penalties in another composed display that fully justified his selection ahead of Ireland's record points scorer Ronan O'Gara.
The only try of an absorbing encounter was supplied by South Africa flanker Schalk Burger in the 16th minute and Ireland, who showed more intent and willingness to spread the ball wide, will have been disappointed by their failure to breach the tourists' whitewash.
The Lions tour to South Africa added an extra dimension to a match that had been billed as a battle of the Hemispheres between the current Six Nations and Tri Nations champions.
Taking to the pitch with nine Lions who played in last summer's Test series, Ireland were hugely motivated to make it three wins on the trot against the Springboks - after the Lansdowne Road successes from 2004 and 2006.
For most of the match, Peter de Villiers' 'Boks were on the back foot, content to use their kicking game to put Ireland under pressure and use their dominant scrum to launch any telling attacks.
It was to their enormous credit that their line went unbreached in a match that started brightly but faded as a spectacle as Ireland brilliantly seized control in the second half, coming back from an early 10-3 deficit.
South Africa out-half Morne Steyn, who booted a conversion and drop goal, missed three penalties and other than Burger's try, their only tactic was to bombard GUINNESS man-of-the-match Rob Kearney with kicks.
Continuing where he left off on the Lions tour, Kearney was assured throughout under those high balls and counter attacking with vigour, showed just why he is rated as one of the best full-backs in world rugby.
The injury-hit Springboks were hit by the late withdrawal of influential lock Bakkies Botha because of a back injury.
Andries Bekker stepped up from the bench, where there was no specialist second row cover, but there was little evidence of fatigue amid a frantic opening.
Tempers flared with just two minutes on the clock with only a warning from referee Nigel Owens interrupting play. Throughout the first quarter the Springboks' lineout was being heavily disrupted by Paul O'Connell and company, who attacked the breakdown with gusto.
Quick thinking from Stephen Ferris forced one turnover that allowed Jamie Heaslip and Tommy Bowe to break free and the Springboks, with their defence stretched, had to infringe.
Sexton stepped up to land a monster tenth-minute penalty but the tourists' response was emphatic with Burger galloping over for a 16th minute try.
Shunted back in the scrum, Ireland conceded a penalty that the Springboks used to build pressure before they went for the kill out wide on the left where Burger blasted over and Steyn then added the conversion.
Burger celebrated his score by hoofing the ball into the stands, provoking a chorus of jeers from the Ireland fans who had not forgotten his altercation with Luke Fitzgerald during the Lions Series.
The frantic pace continued as Brian O'Driscoll somehow burrowed through a mass of South African jerseys and Ireland poured forward with Heaslip and Ferris making wrecking-ball runs.
Crucially, however, a three-minute stint spent pounding away at the Springbok line went unrewarded when the Irish were penalised for holding in front of the visitors' posts.
Steyn booted a drop goal to rub their noses in it and despite controlling territory and possession, Ireland found themselves trailing 10-3.
Showing superb composure, Sexton slotted a tricky penalty to reduce the deficit and then watched as Steyn squandered six points by missing two long range kicks in the closing minutes of the first half.
Another penalty was conceded at the scrum and once again Steyn missed the kick, though it was a third penalty that tested his range to the limit.
Ireland's scrum encountered further problems but they restored morale with two Sexton penalties that nudged them 12-10 ahead.
Winger Keith Earls was bundled into touch in the left corner by Steyn and JP Pietersen as the Irish began to dictate things again with ball in hand.
Gordon D'Arcy, on as a replacement for the injured Paddy Wallace, and young flanker Sean O'Brien, who came on for Ferris, added their ball-carrying abilities as the men in white began to pour forward.
O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan, it should be noted, were simply immense in the amount of work they got through.
South Africa, wilting beneath the relentless pressure, conceded another penalty but this time Sexton missed.
The 'Boks were also relieved when Bekker escaped a yellow card when caught dropping his knee into the back of David Wallace, while Pietersen was fortunate to escape unpunished after a high tackle on the advancing Bowe.
Replacement Ruan Pienaar struck the post with a penalty attempt and then Sexton missed for a second time as Ireland hung on to their two-point advantage.
South Africa managed to launch one final do-or-die assault that saw Tendai Mtawarira rampage down the right wing, but Ireland doggedly defended their line - their efforts summed up by O'Driscoll's crucial last-minute tackle on Zane Kirchner.
A breathless finish to a year that has seen Declan Kidney's charges take their unbeaten run to 11 matches (ten wins and a draw) - an Irish record. What a difference a year makes.
TIME LINE: 10 minutes - Ireland penalty: Jonathan Sexton - 3-0; 16 mins - South Africa try: Schalk Burger - 3-5; conversion: Morne Steyn - 3-7; 24 mins - South Africa drop goal: Morne Steyn - 3-10; 30 mins - Ireland penalty: Jonathan Sexton - 6-10; 39 mins - South Africa penalty: missed by Morne Steyn - 6-10; 40+2 mins - South Africa penalty: missed by Morne Steyn - 6-10; Half-time - Ireland 6 South Africa 10; 44 mins - South Africa penalty: missed by Morne Steyn - 6-10; 48 mins - Ireland penalty: Jonathan Sexton - 9-10; 52 mins - Ireland penalty: Jonathan Sexton - 12-10; 61 mins - Ireland penalty: missed by Jonathan Sexton - 12-10; 66 mins - Ireland penalty: Jonathan Sexton - 15-10; 68 mins - South Africa penalty: missed by Ruan Pienaar - 15-10; 75 mins - Ireland penalty: missed by Jonathan Sexton - 15-10; Full-time - Ireland 15 South Africa 10
IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll (capt), Paddy Wallace, Keith Earls; Jonathan Sexton, Tomas O'Leary; Cian Healy, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell, Stephen Ferris, David Wallace, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements used: Gordon D'Arcy for P Wallace (24 mins, inj), Sean O'Brien for Ferris (half-time, inj). Not used: Sean Cronin, Tony Buckley, Leo Cullen, Peter Stringer, Ronan O'Gara.
SOUTH AFRICA: Zane Kirchner; JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Wynand Olivier, Bryan Habana; Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez; Tendai Mtawarira, John Smit (capt), BJ Botha, Andries Bekker, Victor Matfield, Heinrich Brussow, Schalk Burger, Danie Rossouw.
Replacements used: CJ van der Linde for Mtawarira (43-48 mins, blood sub), Bismarck du Plessis for Botha (48), Dewald Potgieter for Bekker (62-68, blood sub), Ruan Pienaar for Steyn (62), Jean de Villiers for Olivier (64). Not used: Francois Hougaard, Jean Deysel.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
|Ireland Score Card|
|South Africa Score Card|