By Mark Jones
Springboks 33, Ireland 0
Ireland’s rugby tour of South Africa ended in a welter of recrimination and bitterness as the second test in Pretoria turned into a mass brawl. A pre-game war of words between the two teams spilled over into uncontrolled aggression as the rival players traded punches and boots.
Very little actual rugby was played as the Springboks emphasized their superiority over the Irish with a crushing 33-0 victory. Between the frequent off-the-ball incidents and stoppages, there was just about time for five South African tries.
Initially, Ireland were the more culpable of the parties as they set out to stifle the home team, but when it became clear that hooker Keith Wood was being targeted, all hell broke loose.
Wood had punched South Africa’s captain, Gary Teichmann, in the first test, and the Springboks were intent on some retribution. Their scrum-half, Joost van der Westhuizen, disgracefully kicked Malcolm O’Kelly while the Irish forward was on the ground, but bizarrely, Van der Westhuizen wasn’t sent off by ineffectual French referee, Joel Dume.
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That was the start of almost total abdication by Dume. He never got to grips with the game as the players took the law into their own hands and boots. Ireland’s Victor Costello probably should have been given his marching orders for kicking James Dalton and there were too many punch-ups to count.
When Wood was injured toward the end of the game, he was jeered by several of the South African players, an incident which incensed Ireland’s manager, Donal Lenihan. “Wood is battered and bruised and the behavior of certain players who laughed and goaded him was quite appalling,” he said. “It did little for the image of the game.”
However, the Springbok coach, Nick Mallett, countered with some trenchant criticism of the Irish tactics. “Their only interest was in preventing us from playing,” he said. “They tried to keep the score down by any means possible. Referees have got to stop deliberate infringing, they have got to stop cheating.”
It was an acrimonious end to what had been a reasonable tour. Faced with a highly demanding itinerary, the Irish won just two of their seven games, but, in reality, they should have won two more. Losing both test matches was to be expected, but the try count of 10-1 in the South Africans’ favor was sharp evidence of the gulf in class between the southern and northern hemispheres.
Several players, such as Justin Bishop, Kevin Maggs, Justin Fitzpatrick and Trevor Brennan, emerged from the pack, while Wood, Paul Wallace and Malcolm O’Kelly were individuals who were easily a match for the best South Africans.
Ireland have now a respectable set of forwards, but there are still problems behind the scrum. Scoring tries remains a major problem.
Meanwhile, the Irish rugby team have been paired with Romania and Georgia in a qualifying tournament for next year’s World Cup. Ireland will play Georgia at Lansdowne Road on Nov. 14 and Romania on Nov. 21 or 22, with Romania and Georgia meeting at Ravenhill, Belfast on Nov. 18. If Ireland win the tournament, they will be placed in Pool E, probably alongside 1991 World champions Australia and the United States.