Ireland’s hopes of humbling South Africa were picked apart in a one-sided second half of Saturday’s Guinness Series opener at Aviva Stadium.
Jonathan Sexton kicked four penalties as the Irish seized the 12-3 interval lead their dominance deserved, only for the Springboks to then ignite their power game and go on to win 16-12.
Ulster scrum-half Ruan Pienaar crossed for the night’s only try in the 45th minute and Pat Lambie kicked 11 points as South Africa, who started as strong favourites, took control.
The result condemned Ireland to a fifth successive Test defeat, which is their worst losing run for 14 years as they failed to claim redemption for a painful 60-0 drubbing by New Zealand in June.
Missing the highly-influential Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney to injury, they entered the match unburdened by high expectations.
But despite the absence of six key personnel, they will be disappointed by their inability to dispatch opposition that was lethargic and pedestrian in the first half.
Ireland have won three of their last four meetings with South Africa and tonight was a missed opportunity to improve that sequence.
Ireland : 15-Simon Zebo, 14-Tommy Bowe, 13-Keith Earls, 12-Gordon D’Arcy (Ronan O’Gara 75), 11-Andrew Trimble (Fergus McFadden 58 mins), 10-Jonathan Sexton, 9-Conor Murray (Eoin Reddan 61); 1-Cian Healy (David Kilcoyne 45), 2-Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin 75), 3-Mike Ross (Michael Bent 70), 4-Mike McCarthy (Donncha O’Callaghan 70), 5-Donnacha Ryan, 6-Peter O’Mahony (Iain Henderson 70), 7-Chris Henry, 8-Jamie Heaslip (captain).
South Africa : 15-Zane Kirchner, 14-JP Pietersen, 13-Jaco Taute, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Francois Hougaard, 10-Pat Lambie, 9-Ruan Pienaar; 1- CJ van der Linde (Heinke van der Merwe 63), 2-Adriaan Strauss, 3-Jannie du Plessis (Pat Cilliers 55), 4-Eben Etzebeth (Flip van der Merwe 70), 5-Juandre Kruger, 6-Francois Louw, 7-Willem Alberts (Marcell Coetzee 64), 8-Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements unused: 16-Schalk Brits, 21-Morne Steyn, 22-Juan de Jongh, 23-Lwazi Mvovo.