Given Ireland and South Africa first met in a test match more than 114 years ago, it seems almost unfathomable that the teams have not yet faced each other at Rugby World Cup.

That particular quirk of the fixture schedule will be put right in France in less than three years’ time after the Rugby World Cup 2023 Draw pitted the nations in opposition in Pool B.

But, while the nations have so far been kept apart on the game’s biggest stage, Ireland and South Africa do share a wealth of rugby history.

The rivalry through the ages

The inaugural match between the sides took place at Balmoral Showgrounds in Belfast on 24 November, 1906, during the Springboks’ maiden tour of Europe.

South Africa won 15-12 in front of 15,000 fans, thanks to a last-minute try from winger Anton Stegmann, who became the third member of the famous Stellenbosch and Western Province three-quarter line to score that day.

Bob Loubser, who would return home having scored 24 tries in 21 tour matches, touched down twice, while Japie Krige also crossed the whitewash. 

Harold Sugars (2) and Basil Maclear scored Ireland’s tries, but the hosts were unable to prevent defeat and would not taste victory against the Springboks for another 59 years.

That win came in the teams’ seventh meeting, at Lansdowne Road on 10 April, 1965, when a combination of Paddy McGrath’s try and Tom Kiernan’s two penalties edged the hosts home, 9-6.

Kiernan captained Ireland in an 8-8 draw against the Springboks in Dublin five years later, but South Africa retained the upper hand in the fixture well into the 21st century.

Following a run of eight successive Springbok victories between 1981-2004, the Irish secured a second triumph in the fixture 16 years ago, winning 17-12 at Lansdowne Road.

That result was the first of five Ireland wins in seven tests against the Springboks, which included a first victory in South Africa.

Jared Payne and Conor Murray both crossed the whitewash, while Paddy Jackson kicked 16 points, as Ireland recovered from CJ Stander’s first-half red card to win 26-20 at Newlands Stadium on 11 June, 2016.

"We knew to come here and get a victory would be unbelievably tough and require a massive physical performance,” Irish captain Rory Best said after the match.

"There are a lot of tired boys who are running on empty now after the euphoria of the win."

South Africa won the next two matches to claim the test series, but 17 months later the Springboks suffered another defeat in Dublin, 38-3, in the teams’ most recent meeting.

In total, the nations have contested 26 test matches, with South Africa winning 18, Ireland seven and the match in 1970 ending in a stalemate.

Sliding doors at Rugby World Cup

Although none of those encounters came at Rugby World Cup, the teams have come close to meeting during the tournament on several occasions.

The two teams found themselves on the same side of the quarter-final draw at RWC 1995, when South Africa made their tournament debut, with the Springboks progressing to the semi-finals with a 42-14 win over Samoa.

However, the hosts would meet France in the last four after eight Thierry Lacroix penalties and two late tries proved decisive in a 36-12 win for Les Bleus in Durban.

Ireland did not make the last eight at RWC 1999, having lost to Argentina in a quarter-final play-off. But, Australia, who beat Ireland 23-3 to top Pool E, beat the Springboks in the semi-finals en route to lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.

The Irish were again absent from the quarter-finals at RWC 2007, having lost to Argentina and hosts France in Pool D. Los Pumas lost to South Africa in the semi-finals, and the Springboks went on to beat England in the final.

Ireland secured a first tournament win over the Wallabies at RWC 2011, to top Pool C and avoid the Springboks in the last eight. South Africa subsequently lost their quarter-final against Australia, while Wales beat the Irish.

Last year in Japan, meanwhile, the hosts beat Ireland 19-12 in Shizuoka on their way to topping Pool A and facing the Springboks in the quarter-finals. South Africa beat Japan 26-3 in Tokyo and went on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, beating England in the final once again.

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