The Ireland Under-20s were outgunned 57-15 by a powerful and pacy South African side in tonight’s IRB Junior World Championship play-off in Padova.
The sides had met in Treviso last week in the pool stages, with the Baby 'Boks needing a late converted try to end Ireland's determined challenge in a 42-26 defeat.
Mike Ruddock's youngsters, fresh from beating Scotland 30-13, were hoping to make it back-to-back wins and give themselves a shot at fifth place.
They had their moments in this game, some flashes of individual excellence in both defence and attack, but collectively it just did not happen for them on the night.
When they conceded three tries to the South Africans in the opening 13 minutes and went in at half-time 31-3 down, Niall Annett and his team-mates had a huge task on their hands.
Second half tries from flanker Eoin McKeon and out-half Paddy Jackson showed Ireland's attacking capabilities once again – they have scored seven tries in their four Championship games to date.
However, South Africa cruised home and the result means the Irish will face their Six Nations rivals Wales in their final game of the tournament in Treviso on Sunday afternoon. The winners of that clash will secure a seventh place finish overall.
It was not good viewing for the Ireland fans present in the 1,300-strong crowd as flanker Cornell du Preez, winger Wandile Mjekevu and number 8 and captain Arno Botha broke through for early tries.
18-year-old out-half Johan Goosen added two conversions for a 19-0 scoreline, and James McKinney then got Ireland off the mark with a well-taken penalty while he was on the pitch as a blood sub.
Mjekevu and another of the South African speedsters, Tshotsho Mbovane, touched down before the break and the second half was just two minutes' old when centre Jaco Taute scored his side's sixth try.
Credit to Ireland, they were much more competitive over the closing 40 minutes and McKeon 60 minutes) and Jackson (77) managed to put the finishing touches to tries.
But South Africa were ruthless and still smarting from their crucial loss to England last time out, they registered three more tries – Mbovane completed his hat-trick and centre Francois Venter also got in on the act.
“We said before the game that we'd hope to learn our lessons from the last game where we slipped off some tackles,” admitted Ruddock afterwards.
“But unfortunately we didn't learn our lessons, we slipped off a few tackles again, particularly in the first 25 minutes. South Africa are not going to have mercy on you when you do that, they punished us.
“It's mightly disappointing. the boys have improved steadily throughout the tournament – we went toe to toe the first time around with South Africa and also england.
“It's very disappointing that we didn't do that. You could say that fatigue was a factor, but it's the same for South Africa.
“There's no hiding behind excuses. That's a very good South African team, but we should have done better.”
Looking ahead to this weekend's clash with Wales, he said: “It's about rest and recovery now. There's a lot of tired bodies in there (in the changing room). It's an incredibly intense tournament.
“Wales will be hurting after losing to Fiji. It'll be a really tough battle again, we're similar sides – both can play good rugby when they hold the ball, and both have exciting backs.
“So I think it'll be a very close affair and probably the freshest team is going to win.”
Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)