‘Not many teams can work their way out of the hole if there’s not something special in that team’

Rory Keane reports from Johannesburg

AT HALF-TIME in Ellis Park yesterday, it looked like South Africa were heading for a 2-0 series defeat at the hands of a clinical Ireland side.

Trailing 19-3, captain Adriaan Strauss led his side off the pitch as a deafening chorus of boos rang out around the stadium. The Johannesburg faithful had made their feelings abundantly clear.

Very much carrying on from their ragged display in Cape Town, the ​Springboks delivered another 40 minutes of nervy, error-strewn rugby as the visitors established a 16-point lead thanks to Devin Toner’s try and the boot of Paddy Jackson.

With the words of head coach Allister Coetzee still ringing in their ears, the Boks were simply a different beast after the break as they put 29 points past Joe Schmidt’s side to take the series to a decider in Port Elizabeth next Saturday.

“We were open, frank and honest with each other in the changing-room,” said Coetzee following​ his side’s thrilling 32-26 victory. “When I spoke about work ethic, I mentioned the players, mentioned their names. We needed to get that right. The players responded to that and that’s all I’m looking for. It’s not about what I say, it’s how they respond to the message.

“From Adriaan’s side it was clear, concise and to the point. They responded and that’s why I’m happy with the players. They’re coachable players and they respond in adversity.

“The first half, add it to last week; that’s being in a dark spot, a hole. Not many teams can work their way out of the hole if there’s not something special in that team. I have seen a lot of brilliant teams who couldn’t make a comeback, but this team showed South Africa that, backs to the wall, they can fight.”

South Africa head coach Allister Coetzee. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Coetzee replaced the struggling pair of Duane Vermeulen and Lwazi Mvovo with Warren Whiteley and Ruan Combrinck at half-time, with the double substitution proving inspired.

Combrinck caused the Irish defence all sorts of problems in the wide channels as he steamrolled over the top of Jackson to claim his side’s opening try, before crashing through ​Jared Payne in the lead-up to Whiteley’s well-taken try that sparked the Bok resurgence.

Pieter-Steph du Toit and Damian de Allende would both force their way through a​ weary-looking Irish defence to complete the second-half fightback.

“We’ve got core values in this team that we put together; resilience is one of our core values and we spoke about being resilient against the Irish. If you don’t out-resilience them, you’ll never beat the Irish,” said Coetzee.

“The second thing was the impact that we had off the bench, it was also a combination of that. Some guys might have an off-day, that’s why we’ve got 23 players and other guys step up and they get it right and turn it around for us.

“Those are important traits of our team at the moment, they live up to the values that they brought in and the other guys chipped in and it was much easier when we got certain basics right. The ball-carries, the body height in the carry, the quick ball that we generated. There was still a few opportunities we left out there.”

South Africa captain Adriaan Strauss puts in a tackle on Ireland’s Rhys Ruddock. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

For Strauss, who played the full 80 minutes of yesterday’s pulsating contest, it was a huge statement from this new generation

“I’m very happy with the character the guys showed in those last couple of minutes,” said the Springboks skipper. “We were under pressure coming out at half-time, but we spoke about being resilient and we want that to be one of our core values.

“It is one of our core values, but we also knew that we had to have the belief that we could still win and then we had to be process-driven. We took it play by play, didn’t focus on the end result but the momentum just kept on building and as the support got behind us it really helped as well.

“At half-time we went off and it wasn’t that positive, but the support helped as the flow shifted and fortunately the result came through in the last couple of minutes.”

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