In a thrilling showdown at the Stade de France, Ireland reinforced their position as the world’s top-ranked rugby team by narrowly defeating defending champions South Africa.
Manie Libbok’s early penalty gave South Africa an early lead, taking advantage of Ireland’s lineout struggles, as they lost possession on four of their own throws. However, it was Bundee Aki’s remarkable break that ignited Ireland’s spark.
After relentless pressure inside the Springboks’ 22, the breakthrough came as James Lowe set up Mack Hansen to score, with Johnny Sexton’s conversion putting Ireland ahead 7-3 at halftime.
South Africa struck back in the second half when Libbok’s long pass set up Cheslin Kolbe for a try. But Sexton’s penalty reclaimed the lead for Ireland. Both Libbok and Faf de Klerk missed further scoring opportunities, while a late penalty by Jack Crowley secured a historic victory for Ireland.
Bundee Aki, named the Mastercard Player of the Match, marveled at the Irish fans’ support, stating, “I am at a loss for words; these Irish fans are incredible. I’ve never seen anything like this; the traveling crowd is beyond belief. It’s only going to get bigger and wilder. South Africa is an outstanding team; they are world champions for a reason. They pushed us from start to finish. Regardless of what happens next, we’ll meet them again.”
Ireland’s captain, Johnny Sexton, paid tribute to the passionate Irish supporters, saying, “This is a monumental day for Ireland. This crowd is phenomenal, and I have no idea how so many people turned up today. We never want to disappoint them. It was a tough, gritty battle against a team of South Africa’s caliber. It’s a testament to our team and staff.”
Ireland’s head coach, Andy Farrell, acknowledged that the match could have swung either way but credited his team’s resilient defense as the decisive factor. He commented, “It was an intense battle, a tale of two halves. We dominated field position in the first half, and they did in the second. At times, we were hanging on. Simon Easterby [defence coach] has instilled incredible determination in them. When a team displays such grit, it speaks volumes about their attitude.”
South Africa’s captain, Siya Kolisi, lamented missed opportunities for his team, saying, “We would have loved to win, but it was an exceptional game, incredibly intense. Congratulations to them; they played exceptionally well. They handled the pressure in the first half and got the try. I’m proud of our performance. I think we missed a few chances, and so did they. It was a formidable test for us in this group.”
Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber acknowledged the intense nature of the match, stating, “It was a genuine test match. As I mentioned before the game, I believe both teams will gain valuable insights from this match, as the two best teams faced off, providing excellent preparation moving forward. The pressure is on us to perform well against Tonga to secure a favorable result and advance from our pool.”