Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony rues costly errors but is upbeat after defeat

Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony rued costly errors but remained upbeat following a 27-20 defeat to world champions South Africa in a gripping series opener in Pretoria.

The Springboks underlined their status as Test rugby’s top-ranked nation thanks to scores from Kurt-Lee Arendse and Cheslin Kolbe, plus a late penalty try and 10 points from fly-half Handre Pollard.

Ireland replacements Conor Murray and Ryan Baird crossed in a breathless finale to add to Jamie Osborne’s debut try.

But the tourists paid a heavy price for a disjointed first-half display as attention turns to next weekend’s second – and final – Test in Durban.

“(It was) a tough battle. We knew it was going to be very, very difficult here with the quality of South Africa,” O’Mahony told Sky Sports.

“There are a lot of positives to take out of our performance but little bits here and there, playing against a side as good as this – they are going to punish you.

“We’ll go away and have a look and we’ll fix a few things and look forward to next week.”

The Six Nations champions were seeking a fourth-consecutive victory over South Africa following a captivating pool-stage win at last year’s World Cup in France.

South Africa head coach Rassie Erasmus
Rassie Erasmus guided South Africa to a first win over Ireland since 2016 (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The Springboks recovered from that 13-8 Paris defeat to retain the Webb Ellis Cup, while forthright comments emanating from their camp since have further stoked a growing rivalry between Test rugby’s two leading sides.

Following Arendse’s third-minute opener, Ireland wing James Lowe produced a magnificent offload to set up international newcomer Osborne but Pollard’s boot helped ensure Rassie Erasmus’ men led 13-8 at the break.

Lowe had a second-half score disallowed on review due to an adjudged infringement by Ronan Kelleher before inadvertently gifting Kolbe an unchallenged run to the try line.

Arendse and Kelleher were each sin-binned in a frantic climax during which the Springboks claimed a decisive penalty try between Murray – who came on following a head injury suffered by Craig Casey – and Baird going over.

South Africa head coach Erasmus is also targeting improvement following his nation’s first success over Ireland since 2016.

“Overall, the goal was achieved but it was far from a perfect performance,” he said.

“Ireland are a team we’ve had zero success against since (we took over as a coaching staff in) 2018 and they’ve really had our number.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a monkey off our back but it’s a really good competitive opponent, who are number two in the world, and any day they can step up and beat you and be number one.”