JOHANNESBURG – Smart halftime changes and a tongue lashing from new coach Allister Coetzee proved the catalyst for a rousing second-half comeback as South Africa beat Ireland at Ellis Park on Saturday to level the three-match series 1-1.
The Springboks had lost a home test to the Irish for the first time last weekend in Cape Town and were heading for a shock series defeat as they fell 16 points behind with around 20 minutes remaining after another error-ridden performance.
They rallied, however, running in four tries in the second half in a furious onslaught to clinch a 32-26 victory. “I wasn’t happy with the work ethic in the first half. It was terrible and I told them in no uncertain terms at halftime,” explained Coetzee after South Africa suddenly sparked to life late in the game to set up a decider in Port Elizabeth next weekend. “We had to step up in terms of work rate. It was much better in the second half. We had to be open and frank and honest with each other in the change room at halftime.
“When I spoke about work ethic, I mentioned the players by name. I told them they had to get it right. And the players responded to that. That’s what I’m looking for. It’s not what I say, it’s how they respond to the message.” Ruan Combrinck, making his debut on the wing, and Warren Whiteley at number eight came on at halftime to help engineer the turnabout as Coetzee’s changes made an impact.
Both scored tries as South Africa crossed the Irish line four times after being 19-3 down at the break.
“It’s important to know you have options off the bench and that the players can respond to adversity. The team were in a dark spot, they were in a hole,” added the coach following his second match in charge.
“Not many teams can work themselves out of that hole unless there is something special. We showed, backs to the wall, we can fight and we can win.”
Captain Adriaan Strauss added: “It was a hard chat at halftime.
“The coach said the right things in terms of resilience, he said we had to keep believing and be process-driven. Sure you can look at the scoreboard but you have to take it play-by-play. It sounds like a cliche but that’s how we got home.”