Ireland’s James Lowe deals with the challenge from South Africa's Handre Pollard during the First Test in Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria.[Inpho/Dan Sheridan]

Ireland come up short vs. 'Boks

South Africa 27; Ireland 20

Ireland’s winning streak against the World Champions came to an abrupt end in a teak-tough battle between the world’s top two ranked in this first test in Pretoria on Saturday afternoon.

While on the back foot for most of the game, Ireland can consider themselves unlucky not to have taken the lead through a James Lowe improvised try  on the hour mark which leveled the game at 13-13 with a conversion to come before  the video referee spotted  illegal movement in a ruck by the men in green, which led to a penalty for the hosts.

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Within minutes the same player, Lowe, made a huge effort to keep a penalty for touch in play and succeeded in returning the ball to play before his boot landed in touch. After being disallowed a try, he knew his luck was out on the day when  he presented flying SA wing Cheslin Kolbe with the easiest of runs in for a converted touchdown.

Ireland had fought back to 13-8  before that try thanks to a touchdown by new fullback Jamie Osborne and a penalty kick by outhalf Jack Crowley.  Now 20-8 down and despite the fact that the players were acclimatizing to the altitude problems of Pretoria, they showed great defiance to get over for late tries by replacements Conor Murray and  Ryan Baird but unfortunately also led the hosts in for a converted try which was the difference between the teams at the end.

Afterwards Head Coach Farrell blamed his side's poor show in the first 40 minutes as a reason they didn’t get to grips with the game.

“In the cold light of day, I thought South Africa deserved to win the game so congratulations to them. First half, I thought we were off. I thought we gave away access for them to be able to play their game. Defensively, we were a bit passive, certainly for the first try but then the story of the game for me.

“After some words at half-time, I thought it was courageous the way we defended and got ourselves back into the game. In fact, it’s the make-up of this team and history would say it, that even with the type of performance in the first half, we hung in there, we don’t go away.

“There are plenty of teams that would have been under the pump in the first half like that and then seen the game run away from them in the second half. We didn’t. We stayed in the fight and could’ve, would’ve, should’ve with some decisions that rightly or wrongly, didn’t go our way."

South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus was relieved to see his team’s poor recent record against Ireland over the past eight years change with this victory. But he was full of praise for the Irish never-say-die spirit.

“Just like tonight, they never give up. They'll try to be more dominant. I think the Cheslin [Kolbe] try was probably the put-away, where we were lucky. But until the last second, we were still nervy about the game. So no, they’re definitely not gonna run away. They’re going to be there next weekend and we will have to really perform,” he stressed.

SA scorers: Tries: Kurt-Lee Arendse, Cheslin Kolbe, Penalty try Cons: Handre Pollard (2); Pens: Handre Pollard (2)

Ire scorers: Tries: Jamie Osborne, Conor Murray, Ryan Baird 1 Con: Jack Crowley; 1 Pen: Jack Crowley

Ireland: J Osborne; C Nash, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Lowe; J Crowley, C Casey; A Porter, D Sheehan, T Furlong, J McCarthy, T Beirne; P O'Mahony (capt), J van der Flier, C Doris Replacements: R Kelleher, C Healy, F Bealham, J Ryan, R Baird, C Murray, C Frawley, G Ringrose.