By Simon Lewis, Johannesburg
Joe Schmidt said Ireland failed to cope with a second-half “onslaught” from South Africa in today's second Test as the Springboks powered from 26-10 down to win 32-26 and tie the series at Ellis Park.
Ireland had looked comfortable, composed and heading for an historic first series victory in South Africa as they took a 19-3 interval lead with the home side booed off at the break after a try from Devin Toner and 14 points from the boot of Paddy Jackson had seemed to laid the foundations for a second famous win in as many weeks.
The Irish, who saw Jackson miss a penalty either side of half time even matched an early second-half fightback by the Boks when Jamie Heaslip's 60th minute converted try cancelled out substitute Ruan Combrinck's 56th minute score.
Yet the wheels came off for the tourists in the last 15 minutes of a pulsating encounter as tired Irish bodies and minds allowed the Springboks to rally once more with Warren Whiteley, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Damian de Allende all powering over in the final quarter to give new head coach Allister Coetzee his first win.
“They delivered an onslaught that we didn’t quite match up to,” Schmidt said in post-match media conference.
“We missed tackles, we felt a little bit unlucky at times when we weren’t able to make tackles. Again, we’ll probably have a second look at that and we can send a report through but that’s no going to change the result and the result is well and truly earned by the South African ball carriers.
“They really did take it to us and we weren’t quite up the task and that’s incredibly disappointing after being 26-10 ahead within that last quarter and 19-3 up at half-time. We probably just missed a kick just before and after half-time which could have kept our confidence levels up and maybe delivered a little bit more of a blow to the South African team but the way they came back, they were relatively irrepressible.”
Schmidt said there were many plus points from the performance of a side which featured five changes to the first Test starting line-up that provided Ireland with a first win on South African soil in Cape Town last week and five more new faces on the bench.
“I think they are some positives for us. I thought (tighthead prop) Tadhg Furlong was great.
“It was an opportunity for Tadhg to demonstrate what he was capable of doing and I think everybody probably saw he did. He did a super job for us. I thought (second row) Quinn Roux gave us 50 minutes of real ballast to the scrum, he got around the park and he made sure that we weren’t losing those collisions.
“Some of those guys who came in, Stuart Olding (at inside centre), his first three tackles were really decisive and allowed us to make sure that we could set our defensive line either of him in that tackle area. That’s really satisfying in the sense that we’re trying to build a squad but at the same time we’re incredibly disappointed with the end result.”
Ireland will on Sunday fly to Port Elizabeth, back at sea level, to prepare for next Saturday's third and final Test with the series split after six-point victories for either side, although outside centre Robbie Henshaw will be a concern having taken a bang to the knee during the second half.
“Whenever you get the win and get the result, it’s always a lot easier to bounce back even it’s a physically tiring match,” Schmidt said.
“It’ll take us a couple of days probably, mentally, to get over the anguish of surrendering the lead we had and at the same time trying to work our way back to being fit enough to train fully and build towards next weekend’s Test match.”