Boks v Ireland: beautiful brutality in the City of Love
There were no reds, or yellows, just a sea of green at the Stade de France.
How a match in which the limits of physical endeavour were pushed to the extreme did not serve up a single reach for the pocket by referee Ben O'Keefe's is testament to both teams' control and discipline. The ref perhaps needs a pat on the back too.
It was night in Paris many moons in the making, and though not for all to savour, indubitably one to remember.
It lived up to its top billing as the game's top- and second-ranked teams took lumps out each other across 80 breathtaking minutes.
The City of Love may have provided the backdrop but this was no occasion for the game's romantics. This was a clash played at an extreme high octane level in which space and time were commodities so rare and precious it may as well have found place in the Louvre.
The ball carrier was routinely manhandled, if not by one, then sometimes two or three tacklers to stop him in his tracks.
It started with a level of physicality and intensity that was simply off the charts. The first 20 minutes were as brutal.
Asked how the intensity levels of the match ranked with what he had experienced across his 31 Tests, RG Snyman said: “As far as Test matches go, that is up there. It was a good contest between number one and number two in the world.”
He wasn't the only player who made unsolicited mention of the game's physicality.
Captain Siya Kolisi also felt the sheer force of occasion on and off the field. “We would have loved to win but it was a great game, an intense game. Congrats to them.”
Eben Etzebeth also nodded in the affirmative that it was a physical examination in the extreme. “It was a tough Test match. It was physical,” said the elongated Bok enforcer.
Loose head prop Ox Nche, from a low-slung vantage point, observed and experienced the same. “It's a World Cup and playing the number one country in the world so the intensity is as expected and I think we are up for it.”
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton also had a first-hand account of the bone-rattling nature of the fixture.
“Pieter-Steph [du Toit] is one of the best back rows in the world and he made his presence felt. It was a very physical game, a lot more collisions than our first two games,” he said.
“I’m proud of the lads to front up. There were a lot of mistakes, but we just brushed them off. Plenty to work on, though.”
The Boks, too, have lots to revise. They did not assert themselves at the ruck and were turned over when they had Ireland, seemingly, at the rack.
Their decision to go with seven forwards on the bench did not necessarily backfire, but it did not have the destructive power you'd expect from a supercharged Bomb Squad.
The starting Bok back row did not play with the cohesion or their direct opposition. They may be pressed into a change with Jasper Wiese perhaps the most vulnerable in the trio. He had a solid first half but Ireland routinely beat the Boks to the punch at the breakdown.
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