Ireland cemented their status as the number one-ranked side in world rugby as they edged an enthralling tussle with defending champions South Africa at the Stade de France.

Manie Libbok’s early penalty put South Africa ahead as Ireland’s lineout malfunctioned, losing four of their own throws, but Bundee Aki’s sensational break sparked them into life.

After camping in the Springboks’ 22, the pressure told as James Lowe released Mack Hansen to dive over, Johnny Sexton’s conversion giving the Irish a 7-3 interval lead.

South Africa hit back on the resumption when Libbok’s long pass put Cheslin Kolbe over for a try, only for Sexton’s penalty to edge Ireland back in front. Libbok and Faf de Klerk both missed further shots at goal before Jack Crowley’s late penalty sealed a momentous victory.

Mastercard Player of the Match Bundee Aki said of the Irish support: “I am lost for words, these Irish fans are incredible. I have never witnessed anything like this, the travel crowd is completely a joke. It’s only going to get bigger and crazier.

“South Africa are an outstanding team, they are world champions for a reason. They gave it to us from beginning to end. Whatever happens, we will see them again.”

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton also paid tribute to the travelling Irish support, saying: “It’s a huge day for Ireland. This crowd is incredible, how many people turned up today, I don’t know how we do it time after time. We didn’t want to let them down.

“It was a real arm-wrestle to dog it out with a team like that. It is a testament to the team and staff.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell admitted the match could have gone either way but felt his side’s defensive effort proved the difference. He said: “It was some battle, a tale of two halves, I thought we dominated field position in the first and they did in the second. At times we were hanging on in there.

“Simon Easterby [defence coach] has them whipped up into a frenzy. When a side is in a groove like that it says everything about their attitude.”

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi rued some missed opportunities for his team, saying: “We would have loved to win but it was a great game, an intense game. Congrats to them. They played really well. They were able to hold the pressure in the first half and they got the try.

“I am proud of the way we played. I think we left a little bit of opportunities out there and they also did. It was a great test for us in the group.”

Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber added: “It was a proper test match. Like I said before the game, I think both teams would learn a lot from this game, the two best teams playing against each other, which is a great test and preparation going forward.

“The pressure is on us to do well against Tonga to get a result there so that we can get out of our pool.” – WORLD RUGBY

- Advertisement -