Cape Town – Losing to Ireland at Newlands would have been bad enough for Allister Coetzee in his first game as Springbok coach, but losing to an Ireland side that played for 58 minutes with a red card is even worse.
That is exactly what happened in Cape Town on Saturday as the Boks lost 26-20 despite CJ Stander having been red-carded for Ireland in 22nd minute.
It is Ireland’s first ever win in South Africa.
The visitors were also down to 13 men for the last 10 minutes of the first half when they lost Robbie Henshaw to a yellow card.
The Springboks got off to the worst possible start.
Having conceded five penalties in the opening 10 minutes, South Africa were made to defend a lineout 5m out from their own try line.
The Irish got the rolling maul going and had the penalty advantage before inside centre Luke Marshall stabbed a kick through a charging Bok defence.
Fullback Jared Payne dived over for the try, Lood de Jager was yellow-carded for collapsing the maul and the Allister Coetzee era was off to the shakiest of starts.
Pat Lambie then slotted a penalty to put the 14-man Boks on the board but soon after a Damian de Allende high tackle allowed Paddy Jackson to put the Irish 10-3 up after 20 minutes.
A sickening moment, and the game-changer, followed when Lambie was knocked out cold by a flying Stander knee after the Bok flyhalf had kicked ahead.
Stander was red-carded as rookie referee Mathieu Raynal was put on the spot, and there was a clear concern for Lambie’s well-being in the Newlands stands.
Elton Jantjies, with his right middle finger strapped, entered the fray and knocked over a penalty from point-blank range to make it 10-6.
The Boks, scrumming against seven men, naturally got the ascendancy in the scrum and Jantjies was instrumental in the Boks’ first try following another solid set piece.
The move looked like it was going wide right, but Jantjies popped it inside where Lwazi Mvovo arrived at pace and scored near the posts.
It got worse for Ireland as replays revealed that Henshaw had clattered into Jantjies late and high.
The result was a yellow card, and Ireland were made to finish the half with 13 men as the Boks took a 13-10 lead.
Jackson slotted a drop goal to level matters, and despite the Boks coming close to scoring down the left with the final movement of the half, the scores were locked at 13-13 at the break.
Henshaw returned just after the restart, and Ireland stunned the Boks when scrumhalf Connor Murray galloped through some poor Bok defence to score his side’s second try of the night.
20-13 down with half an hour to play, the Boks needed to display some urgency and get their hands on the ball.
They came close to scoring – just a metre out through Lood de Jager – but the Irish defence held firm.
As the match entered the last quarter, things got tense.
The Boks looked to spark attacks whenever possible, but errors at crucial times combined with the resilient Irish defence meant that the Boks went 29 minutes in the second half without scoring.
When Jackson slotted a penalty on 68 minutes, Ireland were 23-13 up and it was looking a tall order for the Boks despite their numerical advantage.
Just seconds later, Newlands erupted.
Pieter-Steph du Toit was the reason why – the towering substitute intercepting a pass from Jackson to score under the posts.
It set up a frantic 10 minutes, the Boks trailing 23-20.
But another Jackson put Ireland 26-20 up, and despite JP Pietersen barging over in the left corner in the final movement, the Boks were defeated as their No 14 was held up and wrestled into touch.
South Africa 20 (13)
Tries: Lwazi Mvovo , Pieter-Steph du Toit
Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2)
Penalties: Pat Lambie, Jantjies
Ireland 26 (13)
Tries: Jared Payne, Connor Murray
Conversions: Paddy Jackson (2)
Penalties: Jackson (3)
Drop goal: Jackson
15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Rudy Paige 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Jesse Kriel
15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best (captain) 1 Jack McGrath
Substitutes: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Finlay Bealham, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Kieran Marmion 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Craig Gilroy