Despite an entirely unconvincing performance, Emerging Ireland managed to hang on for a 28-24 win over the Pumas in Bloemfontein on Wednesday.
Although Emerging Ireland ultimately came away with the winning result, a review of this game certainly won’t make for pretty viewing as the touring team ultimately lost their structure and accuracy after holding a 21-0 lead at one point early on.
Emerging Ireland had come into this midweek clash with a new-look side after beginning their Toyota Challenge campaign with a comfortable 54-7 victory over the Griquas last Friday.
In that opening game, the men in green had made a slow start to proceedings before finding their stride, but on Wednesday the visitors initially raced out to a 14-0 lead after just 12 minutes of play. Basic errors from the Pumas gifted the ascendancy to the Irish, while Chay Mullins and James Culhane both provided clinical finishes to score the opening tries.
From there, it seemed certain to go from bad to worse for the Pumas as lock Shane Kirkwood was shown a yellow card (which could well have been red) for a dangerous cleanout at a ruck, and in his absence Jake Flannery found a delightful angle to dart away for the third try within the opening quarter.
However, the Pumas would respond with a try to André Fouché, which was eventually awarded after yet another lengthy TMO check as frustration began to build during an overly officious first half, one which really lacked any rhythm or atmosphere at a virtually empty Toyota Stadium.
Momentum and cohesion also seemed to seep out of the Emerging Ireland side after their fast start, with a couple of missed opportunities just before half-time bringing an end to a stop-start opening stanza that had dragged on for nearly an hour.
Taking a 21-12 lead into the second half, the increasingly disjointed tourists finally found a connection as some beautiful interplay from a set-piece on the 22m line eventually resulted in a second try to Culhane.
Soon after, though, Emerging Ireland were introduced to the blistering speed of Pumas centre Sebastian de Klerk, who superbly finished off two quickfire tries to suddenly make it a four-point ball game with 15 minutes to play.
During a dramatic finish to the match, the Pumas threatened to score a late breakaway match-winning try, but ultimately the Irish defence held firm.
Emerging Ireland will now prepare for a final Toyota Challenge game against the Cheetahs on Sunday, and there is no doubt that a vastly improved performance will be required if they hope to finish the trip to South Africa with three wins from three.
As it is, word on the ground is that the Cheetahs could be waiting to unleash double World Cup winner Frans Steyn against the Irish, which would certainly only heighten the challenge of the tour-ending encounter. Sunday’s game will kick at off 3pm local time.
André Fouché, Eduan Swart, Sebastian de Klerk (2). Tinus de Beer (2).
Chay Mullins, James Culhane (2), Jake Flannery. Flannery (4)
15 Devon Williams, 14 Jade Stiglingh, 13 Sebastiaan de Klerk, 12 Wiaan van Niekerk, 11 Etienne Taljaard, 10 Tinus de Beer (captain), 9 Chriswill September; 1 Corné Fourie, 2 Eduan Swart, 3 Ig Prinsloo, 4 Malembe Mpofu, 5 Shane Kirkwood, 6 Jaco Labuschagné, 7 Kwanda Dimaza, 8 André Fouché.
16 Llewellyn Classen, 17 Etienne Janeke, 18 Simon Raw, 19 PJ Jacobs, 20 Anele Lungisa, 21 Khwezi Mafu, 22 Franna Kleinhans, 23 Givan Snyman, 24 Lucky Dlepu, 25 Gene Willemse, 26 Ali Mgijima, 27 Diego Apollis, 28 Lundi Msenge.
15 Chay Mullins, 14 Ethan McIlroy, 13 Antoine Frisch, 12 Cathal Forde, 11 Andrew Smith, 10 Jake Flannery, 9 Michael McDonald; 1 Callum Reid, 2 Diarmuid Barron, 3 Roman Salonoa, 4 Cormac Izuchukwu, 5 Brian Deeny, 6 Cian Prendergast (captain), 7 John Hodnett, 8 James Culhane.
16 Dylan Tierney-Martin, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 Sam Illo, 19 Tom Ahern, 20 David McCann, 21 Ben Murphy, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Shane Daly.