Boks and Irish resume the ‘Battle of Loftus’

SPRINGBOK lock RG Snyman competes for the ball against Ireland. The two rugby giants resume the ‘Battle of Loftus’ today. | AFP

SPRINGBOK lock RG Snyman competes for the ball against Ireland. The two rugby giants resume the ‘Battle of Loftus’ today. | AFP

Published Jul 6, 2024


IT WAS in 1906 that the Springboks and Ireland first locked horns and for 100 years the South Africans enjoyed almost complete dominance. A total of 28 games played, 18 Boks wins, with one draw. Most of Ireland’s nine wins have come in more recent years. Mike Greenaway looks at some of the mighty scraps between the sides since the Irish improvement in the modern era.

1998 South Africa beat Ireland 33-0 in Pretoria.

The week before, a very strong Bok side under the captaincy of Gary Teichmann smashed the Irish 37-17 in Bloemfontein. The visitors understood they were outclassed and for the return game at Loftus, they planned to beat up the Boks if they could not beat them on the scoreboard. The problem was that the Boks had some bruisers of their own and they gave as good as they got in what became known as the “Battle of Loftus”. None other than flanker Rassie Erasmus was in many of the scraps, as was James “Bullett” Dalton, who was in open warfare with Irish hooker Keith Woods. Joost van der Westhuizen and Mark Andrews were also willing combatants. Another notable Springbok that day was flyhalf Franco Smith (in for injured Henry Honiball). It was only a fortnight ago that Smith enjoyed his finest hour when his Glasgow Warriors shocked the Bulls in the URC final.

2006 Ireland beat South Africa 32-15 in Dublin

For Bok fans this match is haunted by one of the most bizarre refereeing episodes in history. It was an incident that had captain John Smit within a deep breath of walloping Paul Honiss, the New Zealander in charge. To start with, this match was of deep significance because it was the centenary of South Africa’s first-ever Test match under the Springbok emblem. One hundred years earlier, Paul Roos had brought over a touring team, and on the ship the players debated what they should be called. When the ship docked in Southampton, Roos gave a press conference and declared that his team would be known as “De Springbokken”. To say the name stuck is an understatement, and in honour of Roos and his first Springboks, Smit’s 2006 team played in replica jerseys of the 1906 design.

At a critical point in the game, with Ireland near the Springbok 22, Honiss blew for an Ireland penalty and then told Smit to have a talk with his players about repeated infringements. Smit duly called his players to a huddle, but as he was opening his mouth, Ireland flyhalf Ronan O’Gara tapped the ball and strolled over for a try. Smit’s protestations were epic, but Honiss could not bring himself to disallow the try. The 49 000 Irish fans dancing in the stands of the ramshackle Lansdowne Road stadium would have had something to do with it. The cheated Boks lost their composure and went on to lose the match.

2023 Ireland beat South Africa 13-8

There are just over five million people in Ireland and 1.3 million of them watched on television as their team played the Springboks, despite rugby being their fourth most popular sport. The interest was because this was the best Ireland rugby team in history and they were expected to win the World Cup.

Ireland was No 1 in the world after winning 27 of their previous 29 matches, including a historic series win in New Zealand. Ireland had won 16 matches in a row and beaten the Boks in the previous three encounters between the sides.

Never before had a World Cup pitted the No 1 and No 2 teams in the world against each other in a pool match, and afterwards the common refrain was that it should have been the final. Some 30 000 Irishmen were packed into the Stade de France and their singing of the Cranberries classic Zombie was goosebump stuff. The game was a cracker and the narrow scoreline underlines that you don’t have to have a try-fest for a game to have appeal; it is about the contest. The Boks could easily have won had Manie Libbok kicked accurately.

The Irish players celebrated in the faces of the Boks, but ultimately it did not matter because he who laughs last laughs loudest. New Zealand sent Ireland home in the quarter-finals and at the tournament’s end, it was the Springboks singing Zombie as they gulped champagne from the Webb Ellis Cup.

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