The build up to the first of the Guinness Autumn Internationals was overshadowed by a dispute between the IRFU and the grassroots clubs over the cost and manner in which tickets were to be distributed.
The new stadium was not filled to capacity for the visit of the world champions but the Munster giant insisted that the off-field row had not impacted on the focus of the players for the glamour clash.
He also praised the manner in which union chiefs accepted they had made an error in their ticketing policy.
O’Callaghan said: “The players knew what was going on and I think I’m privileged to be with an organisation that puts its hands up when they make a mistake. There’s not enough of that (in this country) at the moment.
“In fairness they made a b***s of it but put their hands up, said it, and you’d have to admire that.
“When you go into professional sport and you’re playing for your country, it shouldn’t matter about atmosphere. You’ve a job of work to do and we just didn’t do it well enough in the first half. I just don’t think we made them hurt and didn’t make them pay.”
O’Callaghan was fuming that Ireland let the match-weary Springboks off the hook in an incredible closing quarter.
“For the last 20 minutes they (South Africa) were probably hanging a bit after what has been a long season. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it a horrible place for them early on and we didn’t make them go through the phases.
“The first half was hugely frustrating because we came in at half time and nobody was sucking (for air). At international level you want to be, and you want the opposition to be in pain.
“There were then a few moments when we didn’t defend well and at this level you’re made pay for mistakes. Add to that, our line out didn’t go well; some of that was down to their good aggressive defence, but an awful lot of lineouts were very slow. When you do that, good players like (Victor) Matfield and (Bakkies) Botha will read what you’re thinking. It’s something we’ve got to do – to speed up the line outs. At one stage Rory said he felt he was looking at three or four Matfields, so we’ve got to help him (Best) out as well.
“We only made them feel hurt in the last 20 and we could have got a draw if ROG’s (Ronan O’Gara) kick hadn’t come back off the post. It would have been a lucky draw more than a deserved one, however.”
There were no excuses either from skipper Brian O’Driscoll, who had no complaints about the muted atmosphere.
“It was a difficult game to get into and there weren’t any wow moments early on for them (fans) to roar the team on; that’s our responsibility, but they did get behind us once we started playing a bit. We will have to start the next international like we finished this one.”
Coach Declan Kidney insisted there will be no long term hangover as Ireland seek to bounce back against Samoa on Saturday.
He reasoned: “It’s 90% in our own control to fix. Our scrum went reasonably well, I’m not saying we dominated South Africa but there were two (inexperienced) young props there and we will be looking to improve on that again.
“The defence was good; they (South Africa) didn’t have too many line breaks, and that’s a building block for next week.”
But he vowed that Ireland will not underestimate their next opponents, who face Connacht tomorrow night. “Samoa will be a bit different. They have got to two of the last three World Cup quarter-finals so it’s going to be a huge task. We (hope to) have the same 30, plus Damian Varley because we want to get experience in with three hookers.”
For now, it appears there will be no place for Leicester Tigers skipper Geordan Murphy or for Leinster captain Leo Cullen, although Kidney emphasised they remain firmly in Ireland’s plans for the season.
“I was in touch with Geordan during the week and he could come into it, particularly once we know about the (outcome of) the bangs and knocks. However, Leicester are playing Australia on Tuesday and the more experience he has of playing in matches like that the better. We’re trying to get guys game time over the next three weeks rather than being in camp all the time.
“Leo is a very intelligent player and he brings that bit of leadership. He is on the radar.”