Ireland’s 19-10 victory in Dublin means Joe Schmidt’s team will travel to Japan buoyed by a positive end to their warm-up matches, but the most eye-catching game came in Bloemfontein as Guinness PRO14 side Cheetahs sealed their second Currie Cup victory in four years.
It was a compelling final as the hosts held on for an eventually close-run 31-28 victory, with the Golden Lions battling admirably to peg back the 24-point half-time deficit.
Joseph Dweba, William Small-Smith, Clayton Blommetjies and Walt Steenkamp all went over for the Cheetahs in a first-half blitz that proved too much for the visitors despite their flurry of late consolations.
The Lions sought to capitalise on lock Sintu Manjezi’s second-half yellow card, but it was too little too late even after Dillon Smit and James Venter has reduced the deficit.
Cheetahs coach Smith will go on to join the Italy national setup after this month’s World Cup, departing South Africa with a glittering domestic coaching record.
Celebrating all the way! 🎉
Thanks to all the fans who filled Toyota Stadium! #CurrieCup2019
— Toyota Cheetahs (@CheetahsRugby) September 8, 2019
Joe Schmidt and Rory Best also enjoyed a happy farewell, this time to Irish rugby on home soil after their side delivered an impressive second-half performance to beat Wales 19-10.
Rob Kearney, Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan all went over for the hosts in an initially cagey contest that Ireland nevertheless went on to dominate.
And the result means Schmidt’s side will now go to Asia as the number one ranked side in the world, displacing New Zealand at the top of the rankings heading into their tournament opener against Scotland.
A special day for these two 🙌 pic.twitter.com/9D5PXFfLxB
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) September 7, 2019
Elsewhere, Eddie Jones’ England cruised to an impressive 37-0 victory over Italy at St. James’ Park as the returning Owen Farrell helped himself to 17 points.
Tries from Ben Youngs, Joe Marchant – who was not included in Jones’ squad and played to help improve England’s ‘adaptability’ – Ellis Genge and Anthony Watson were enough to power past a hard-working Italian side.
Scotland and South Africa also cruised to imposing victories, with Gregor Townsend’s team beating Georgia 36-9 and Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks seeing off Japan 41-7.
But despite the Scots’ dominance at BT Murrayfield, their head coach admitted he was concerned about his mounting list of injuries that now includes the Edinburgh trio of Jamie Ritchie, Ben Toolis and Blair Kinghorn.
And with Scarlets’ Blade Thomson and Glasgow lock Jonny Gray also nursing hamstring injuries, Townsend will be apprehensive as his side head into their World Cup opener against Ireland in Yokohama.
South Africa were ruthless in putting six tries past Japan, with former Cheetahs wing Makazole Mapimpi scoring a hat-trick and fellow wide man Cheslin Kolbe going over twice.
Steve Hansen’s All Blacks enjoyed an even greater degree of dominance, however, thrashing a hapless Tonga side 92-7 in Hamilton and scoring 14 tries – four from rookie winger George Bridge.
KINGS GO CLOSE AGAIN
Namibia defeated the Isuzu Southern Kings twice in a week as they won their final World Cup warm-up match 21-17 in Walvis Bay.
Fly-half Cliven Loubser was clinical from the tee and slotted 11 points in a physical contest, in which Namibia lock PJ van Lill and Kings replacement flanker Bholi Thembelani both saw red.
Thank you and Good Luck, Namibia!! pic.twitter.com/EL3EnJJnLO
— Isuzu Southern Kings (@SouthernKingsSA) September 7, 2019
But tries from left-wing JC Greyling and Andre Rademeyer were enough to send Namibia to the tournament in high spirits – Bobby de Wee and Alandre van Rooyen on the scoresheet for the Kings.
With all warm-up games complete, attention now turns to Japan as head coaches complete preparations for kick-off, while the Kings and Cheetahs are all geared up for the new Guinness PRO14 season.