Caught in the act: Ireland's Rory Best is hauled back by Morné Steyn of South Africa at the Aviva Stadium last night

He nearly pulled it off. With four minutes to go and the stadium properly buzzing for the first time all night, Ronan O'Gara lined up a conversion attempt out virtually on the right touchline. Rob Kearney had tried to make it a little easier for him when he went over for Ireland's second try but two South African tacklers made him think again and so, on the occasion of his 100th cap, O'Gara was left with one of those horrible ones to try and save the match. As it was in the air, the whole of the West Stand rose to acclaim him but at the last second it tailed and hit the right-hand post.

Shortly afterwards, Ireland ran out of road, losing 23-21 to the Springboks in the first international to be held at the Aviva Stadium.

In truth, both teams got what they deserved. For 70 minutes, the visitors were comfortably the best team, completely on top at set-piece time – the line-out especially – and never looking in danger of giving up a try in defence. They scored two of their own, the first a breakaway effort by flanker Juan Smith after an Irish line-out went pear-shaped and the second from full-back Gio Aplon as the Irish cover was stretched in the second half.

Ireland didn't give up easily, although their best work was of the thankless kind with the back-row of Stephen Ferris, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip putting in a heroic amount of tackles. It wasn't until O'Gara and Peter Stringer were introduced with 10 minutes left and Ireland 9-23 down that they produced anything going forward.

But tries by Tommy Bowe and Kearney – both conjured up by O'Gara and aided by a hapless full-back in Aplon – hauled them back to the verge of what would have been a fortunate draw. But it wasn't to be.