Ireland 15-10 South Africa, Croke Park, November 28
D'Arcy hails ice-cool Sexton
November 29, 2009
Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton slots a penalty during their clash with South Africa © Getty Images
Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy hailed match-winner Jonathan Sexton's ice-cool nerve following their 15-10 victory over South Africa at Croke Park.
The Leinster No.10 kicked all of his side's points as Ireland recorded their third successive victory over the Springboks and completed the year unbeaten. The 24-year-old Sexton justified his selection ahead of veteran fly-half Ronan O'Gara with an assured display in trying conditions in Dublin.
"Jon is a brilliant striker of the ball, very natural," enthused D'Arcy. "It's a mark of a good player that when the pressure comes on he wants the ball. He always wants it - it was the same during the Heineken Cup semi-finals and final last season.
"When those pressure kicks are on or when he's go for that extras 10 yards, he doesn't flinch at all. He asks for the ball because he wants it every time."
Hooker Jerry Flannery reflected on a near-perfect autumn by declaring Ireland had lived up to their reputation as Grand Slam champions.
"It would have tarnished the Grand Slam had we shown up this autumn and had a poor series," said the Munster hooker. "We've come a long way and I take satisfaction from the way things haven't dropped off after the Grand Slam.
"I was worried that might happen but the players and management took steps to ensure it didn't. We wanted to test to ourselves against South Africa to see how we are progressing as a team.
"This win is a big lift for us because we have massive respect for the Springboks - they're an awesome side. We're still no world beaters but we've progressed from the Six Nations. We're proud of what we've achieved."
The result completed an unbeaten year for Ireland and represented the longest unbeaten sequence in the history of Irish rugby - 10 victories and a draw against Australia that dates back to the 2008 November international victory over Argentina. That unprecedented run of success saw coach Declan Kidney honoured as the International Rugby Board Coach of the Year but Flannery insists South African assistant Gert Smal's contribution was crucial to toppling the Springboks.
Smal was South Africa's coach during their successful World Cup campaign two years ago and his inside knowledge proved invaluable. "Gert Smal gave us a good insight into the mentality of the Springboks," said Flannery. "He gave us a glimpse of the mental strength that's got them where they are.
"It was hugely physical but I didn't find it as attritional as a Six Nations game. South Africans try and put the pressure on teams with kick-chase and bombs and they've very good on the deck. One of the foundations of the win was how solid our back three were under the high ball. South Africa have had a long season, you must take that into consideration."