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Sheehan: It Was Like Nothing Else I’ve Experienced

Sheehan: It Was Like Nothing Else I’ve Experienced

Dan Sheehan celebrates at the end of the game with Mack Hansen, the scorer of Ireland's only try against South Africa ©INPHO/Dave Winter

Dan Sheehan was delighted to put a frustrating time out with injury behind him as he helped Ireland to overcome South Africa in a titanic Rugby World Cup tussle in Paris.

Sent on for the final 28 minutes, World Cup debutant Sheehan was in at hooker for the two scrum penalties that ultimately proved decisive in Ireland’s rousing 13-8 victory.

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An untimely foot injury saw the 25-year-old miss the opening two matches of the tournament against Romania and Tonga, but his first taste of World Cup action more than made up for his recent spell on the sidelines.

“Obviously the last few weeks have been frustrating, trying to get back in time,” he told Virgin Media Sport, referring to the injury he picked up against England in the Bank of Ireland Nations Series last month.

“Having to watch the lads do a job, but no, my first World Cup experience has been brilliant. For a game like this, I couldn’t have hoped for any better.”

It took a monumental defensive shift from Andy Farrell’s men to maintain their winning form. Restricted to their lowest Test match points tally in almost six years, South Africa also only had 15 phases in the red zone compared to Ireland’s 35.

Ireland’s positive outcomes – their percentage of possessions that did not end in an error or a turnover – stood at 65%, compared to the Springboks’ 49%. The reigning world champions had more dominant tackles (30 to 7), but conceded more penalties in defence (9 to 6).

Despite a low lineout success rate of 67% and giving their opponents some long range shots at the posts, Ireland held firm to extend their lead at the top of Pool B to four points.

Sheehan knew that the hard work they had done in preparation stood them in good stead against the abrasive ‘Boks, and he praised the members of the wider squad for ensuring that the matchday 23 were primed and in battle-hardened condition.

“South Africa have been in great form. They obviously provide a massive physical battle, so we’ve been preparing for that all week.

The lads that weren’t picked for today were great for us all week, making sure they presented the right pictures that South Africa would present to us.

“So I think we were well prepared. The week’s work was really good and I think everyone felt pretty confident that we had the right game-plan to come away with the result.”

The travelling support, which must have numbered over 30,000 out of the 78,542-strong crowd, was very much Ireland’s 16th man at the Stade de France. They sung their hearts out, from ‘Ireland’s Call’ to ‘The Fields of Athenry’ and the spinetingling post-match rendition of the Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’.

Asked what it was like to play in such a atmosphere as the noise reverberated around the stadium, Sheehan admitted: “It was like nothing else I’ve experienced. There must have been 80,000 Irish people there because everywhere I looked I either knew someone or you could hear them.

“For the anthems straightaway you definitely knew the Irish were in town. We’re staying a bit out of Paris so we haven’t seen the Irish around Paris the last few days, but you definitely know they’re here when the anthems get going.”

Farrell’s side now have the benefit of a week without Test match duties, as the Pool B fixtures next weekend will see Scotland play Romania in Lille, while a wounded South Africa have Tonga in their sights in Marseille.

Sheehan and his team-mates may have one foot in the quarter-finals, but they are not there just yet. Looking ahead to their final pool match against Scotland on Saturday, October 7, they know how tough the Scots will be to beat especially given what a hard slog it was in Edinburgh last March.

“It’s great (to get this win) but we still have a job to do,” insisted the Leinster front rower. “There’s no guarantees of any quarter-final yet, so we need to make sure that we put all eyes on Scotland.

“They provide another threat as well because they’ve been in great form recently as well. We had a great battle with them in the Six Nations last season.

“That’ll be a big game (in the final round of the pool stages). We have a bit of luxury that we now have two weeks to prepare for them, but we’ll be all eyes on Scotland now.”

Meanwhile, Ryan Baird relished his opportunity to take on South Africa for the first time in his Test career. He replaced Peter O’Mahony just past the hour mark, adding his athleticism and boundless energy to the back row.

Having started at lock in the Grand Slam decider against England, Baird has maintained his presence in the matchday squads. He had recent starts against both Italy and Samoa, before kicking off his first World Cup with appearances off the bench against Tonga and the ‘Boks.

He was happy that Ireland’s replacements were able to play a significant role last night, both in defence and attack. It keeps them on course to achieve their ultimate aim in France, but he knows they cannot afford to rest on their laurels.

“Looking on from the sideline at the start, it was incredibly physical. They got the upper hand with the lineout in the first few minutes,” highlighted Baird.

“Then we threw a punch (with Mack Hansen’s try) towards the end of the first half, and then you could just see the physicality from when I was warming up down the bottom.

“So, we knew it was going to be a big test and then the boys came through strong. The subs came on and we did a brilliant job. We added impact which is what we try to do. I thought it was a great team performance all round.

“It’s another stepping stone. It’s three (wins) out of seven, so we’ve got four more to go as our goal. We’ll just take it one game at a time, but no, we’ve got great confidence out of this.”

Wins over defending world champions do not come around often, and you could see what it meant to both the Ireland players and fans afterwards. South Africa had only conceded two tries in their last eight RWC matches, and they had won their last six Tests at the Stade de France.

“It’s brilliant. When the final whistle went and you hear the crowd go crazy, and the fact that they stay on so long after, (it) was brilliant. A great step towards bigger things to come,” added the 24-year-old Baird.