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Timeless Tests – South Africa v Ireland

Ahead of the Springboks’ much-anticipated two-match series against Ireland that kicks off at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, Quintin van Jaarsveld highlights five of the most significant showdowns between the two nations in the professional era.


Ahead of the Springboks’ much-anticipated two-match series against Ireland that kicks off at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, Quintin van Jaarsveld highlights five of the most significant showdowns between the two nations in the professional era.

Honiss Horror Show

After scoring back-to-back wins over the Irish on South African soil earlier in the year, the Springboks met Ireland for a third time in 2004. This time, the Irish had home-ground advantage, however, as things turned, they had much more than that.

The hosts, unknowingly, had a trump card in Paul Honiss, who made one of the biggest referee blunders in rugby history, which marred the match and ultimately proved decisive. In the 21st minute, the New Zealand match official penalised the Boks inside their 22 and instructed South African skipper John Smit to talk to his players regarding their repeated infringements in the red zone.

Smit, with his back turned to Ireland, called his teammates into a huddle and an opportunistic Ronan O’Gara decided to take a quick tap and dot down. Inexplicably, Honiss let the try stand, leaving the Boks completely baffled and trailing 8-3 at halftime with O’Gara adding a penalty goal and Percy Montgomery replying in kind.

A tryless second half saw O’Gara punish the Boks for their ill-discipline, which included Schalk Burger conceding a yellow card, to open up a 17-6 lead and although Montgomery got the men in green and gold back within reach, the sands of time ran out on the Boks as they suffered a highly controversial 17-12 loss.

Honiss, who became public enemy No. 1 in South Africa after the incident, later apologised to Smit and issued a public apology on a South African radio station for his mistake.

Centenary Celebration Gone Wrong

As part of South African rugby’s centenary celebrations, the Springboks wore a replica of the jersey that was worn by the touring side captained by Paul Roos in 1906 for the 2006 November Test against Ireland. The kit consisted of a dark green jersey with a white collar and white number background, with blue shorts and blue socks.

There were few high points at Lansdowne Road for the visitors, as three first-half tries laid the foundation for a solid win for the Irish, who led 22-3 at the break with the Boks’ only points coming off the boot of flyhalf Andre Pretorius.

Two future legends scored tries for South Africa in the second half, a debuting Frans Steyn, who played on the wing, and Bryan Habana, who ran in a fine five-pointer in the No. 13 jersey. Ireland had the final say with Shane Horgan crossing for a converted try to cap off a 32-15 win.

Boks Spoil Irish House Warming

The Boks played spoiler when they pipped Ireland in the latter’s first Test at their new home of Aviva Stadium in 2010.

The contest was a real arm-wrestle until the 17th minute when Juan Smith intercepted inside his own half and had the pace to go all the way to put the Boks up 10-0. With their pack flexing their muscle, the visitors continued to soften up Ireland.

A prime Morne Steyn simply couldn’t miss, slotting all four of his kicks at goal to extend his extraordinary record to 41 consecutive successful shots while Johnny Sexton landed three penalty goals to make it 16-9 going into the final quarter.

The Boks seemingly had the win in the bag after Gio Aplon sliced through and Pat Lambie, making his Test debut, added the conversion for a comfortable 23-9 lead. Refusing to roll over, Ireland scored through Tommy Bowe (which Sexton converted) and Rob Kearney to bring a breath-taking finale to the game.

O’Gara, on the field for only eight minutes, was in the hot seat as he lined up the conversion that would level the scores, but the legendary flyhalf couldn’t quite celebrate his 100th cap as he would’ve wanted as he missed off the right upright as the Boks triumphed 23-21.

Boks Dig Down Deep

After suffering their first-ever loss to Ireland on South African soil the previous week at Newlands, the Boks were under immense pressure to avoid a historic series defeat in the second Test of the 2016 three-match series at Ellis Park.

The writing appeared to be on the wall as the Irish capitalised on sloppy South African play to lead 19-3 at the break and 26-10 with 18 minutes remaining (with debutant Ruan Combrinck having scored a fantastic try).

Then came a stunning fightback with Warren Whiteley, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Damian de Allende crossing the whitewash and Elton Jantjies adding a late penalty goal to seal a thrilling 32-26 win, the first for new Bok coach Allister Coetzee.

A World Cup Classic

The most recent encounter between the sides was an epic on the game’s grandest stage where the power of De Allende and the panache of Damian Willemse weren’t enough as the Boks succumbed in their crunch World Cup Pool B clash.

The battle of the two top-ranked teams in the world in Saint-Denis last September delivered in awe-inspiring intensity, explosiveness and drama with each side scoring a try apiece, South Africa’s five-pointer coming via Cheslin Kolbe, following a Manie Libbok penalty goal.

However, the defending champions missed 11 points off the tee and squandered a couple of try-scoring opportunities that ultimately cost them victory as the Irish emerged 13-8 victors.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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