New South Africa coach Allister Coetzee hailed the resilience of his team and the impact of their replacements after a dramatic 32-26 second-Test triumph over Ireland on Saturday. Trailing by 16 points with 16 minutes left, the Springboks scored three unanswered tries to level the series at one win each and set up a winners-take-all final Test in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
Ireland were superior for most of the international at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg before fading, with Coetzee saying the 1,750m altitude was a factor.
“One of our core values is resilience and that showed tonight. We were in a very deep hole and had to dig our way out. We will become a good team. Tonight was a building block,” Coetzee said.
“The squad has been together for only 20 days and this comeback showed how much we can achieve. The potential is there. The impact from the bench was massive — the replacements turned it round for us. This team is not about 15 players, but rather all 23,” he added.
Two of the four second-half Springbok tries were scored by substitutes, with winger Ruan Combrinck getting the first and loose forward Warren Whiteley the second.
Coetzee blamed ill discipline and overeagerness for the concession of a string of first-half penalties, with Ireland flyhalf Paddy Jackson slotting four in a row to help create a 19-3 halftime lead.
“Not only did we concede points through a lack of discipline — being penalized repeatedly broke our rhythm,” Coetzee said. “Ireland have a vastly experienced team, especially the backline. We lacked that experience and developing combinations takes time. While we are delighted with the result today, the series still has to be won, so we start from scratch on Monday.”
Appointed in April as the second black coach after Peter de Villiers of the once all-white Springboks, 53-year-old Coetzee also praised new skipper Adriaan Strauss.
“His leadership during the difficult moments of the match proved crucial and I am pleased in many ways that we are starting to think on the same wavelength,” Coetzee said.
Strauss said he never believed the Test was a lost cause, even when Jackson converted a try by No. 8 Jamie Heaslip to give Ireland a 26-10 advantage.
“We kept believing in the process and taking it one step at a time. We realized we had to play much better in the second half and we did,” Strauss said.
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