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Gritty Springboks not yet in sync, admits Erasmus after victory

<a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/soccer/teams/south-africa-women/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:South Africa;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">South Africa</a> prop Ox Nche (C) is tackled by <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/soccer/teams/republic-of-ireland-women/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Ireland;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Ireland</a> fly-half Jack Crowley (L) and flanker Josh van der Flier (R) during a Test match in Pretoria on Saturday. (PHILL MAGAKOE)

South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus said his team had to show plenty of grit in their hard-fought 27-20 first Test win over Ireland on Saturday because they were not yet completely in sync.

"We all knew that it was going to be a close game and although we controlled things really well in terms of speed, it was still a real grind for us," he told a press conference in Pretoria.

"I am satisfied, but there is a lot of hard work to be done. With players in Japan, the United Rugby Championship and England, sometimes it is difficult to get them all in sync."

Ireland had a second-half try by wing James Lowe disallowed by Welsh television match official Ben Whitehouse due to an earlier ruck infringement by replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher.

The 31-year-old New Zealand-raised wing was then at the centre of another tight call by Whitehouse when a 65th-minute try from Springboks wing Cheslin Kolbe was allowed.

Lowe leapt to try and keep a penalty kick by fly-half Handre Pollard in play, flicking it back on to the pitch.

But Kolbe, showing superb pace and anticipation, darted forward, hacked the ball ahead and scored to give the reigning world champions a 20-8 lead after the conversion.

After reviewing the incident numerous times, Whitehouse ruled that Lowe had released the ball before his foot touched the ground in touch.

Referring to the Kolbe try, Ireland coach Andy Farrell said: "It is not for me to say if the TMO was right or wrong, but I did have dubious thoughts about it.

"It was a difficult game to referee and sometimes it goes for you and sometimes it does not. But we showed a huge amount of character."

Erasmus said: "We were far from perfect tonight, we were lucky and Cheslin's try was the one that put them away. Ireland never gave up, though, it was a very stop-start game for both teams.

"But against a team of that quality, I hope people can see we are trying to develop our attacking game. There will be mistakes and a lack of cohesion, but it will come," Erasmus said.

Since winning the 2023 World Cup in France, South Africa have added former All Blacks playmaker Tony Brown to the coaching team.

Farrell hailed his team for coming so close to victory after a first half in which they were dominated and trailed 13-8 on the scoreboard.

In the second half the 2024 Six Nations champions recovered from being under intense early pressure to constantly nip at the Springboks' heels and give them a hard time.

"South Africa deserved to win, so congratulations to them. In the first half we were just off, we gave (allowed) them to play their game, we were a bit passive in defence," said Farrell.

"But there were strong words at half-time and this team showed just how courageous they are. We got ourselves back in the game because we just would not go away.

"Plenty of teams under the pump, like we were in the first half, the game would have got away from them in the second half. But we stayed in the fight."

The second and final Test between the top ranked nations will be played at Kings Park stadium in Durban next Saturday.

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