World number 14 Ireland, who led 2-1 at half-time, scored through a Nicola Evans hat-trick in the fifth, 20th and 49th minutes while Nicola Daly nailed down a stunner in the 54th. World number 11 SA’s excellent, yet lone, goal came from Kelly Madsen in the seventh minute.
SA went into contact situations too often, not exploiting their pace and ball movement to advantage in catching the Irish defenders out.
SA must finish at least fourth in the five-team Pool B in order to make the quarter-finals on June 18 and keep their hopes alive. The top three teams qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics with the sides ending fourth and fifth having an outside chance should other tournament results go their way.
Ireland opened the scoring against the run of play when Chloe Watkins took a quick free-hit and Evans found space to her right before steering the ball past goalkeeper Sanani Mangisa for 1-0 after five minutes.
In the seventh, SA central defender Lisa Deetlefs slapped a pinpoint bullet pass into the strike zone for Madsen to deflect home the equaliser (1-1).
The second quarter belonged to SA but the initial success was the Irish winning the first penalty corner (PC) of the match and Evans took advantage of the accurate variation to the right for the 2-1 scoreline after 20 minutes.
SA had an opportunity soon after when Line Malan won a turnover in Ireland’s defensive third but her shot went wide of the far post. A minute later, SA forward Candice Manuel fired off a shot on the turn but Ireland keeper Emma Gray made the save.
SA continued pressing hard and while Ireland did reasonably well to absorb the assault, the girls in green and gold need to look at why they didn’t turn this pressure into something tangible on the scoreboard. A case in point came four minutes from half-time when SA should have got more out of an excellent opportunity but failed to make the shot.
Three minutes after half-time Dirkie Chamberlain’s determination earned SA’s first PC but the injection pass from the baseline went wide of the waiting trapper and while an attempt was made to scramble something out of the chance, it was not to be.
Midfielder Illse Davids won a superb turnover near the halfway line and fed Chamberlain out right, whose effort won another PC. This time SA shot too high on the first strike.
In the 38th Anna Flanagan made ground before snapping off a shot that Mangisa did well to save. While this third quarter was a somewhat cagey affair, SA again did not make their incursions count.
Two minutes into the fourth and final quarter, Ireland found the backboard from a PC but the “goal” was disallowed for being too high on the first strike. SA survived another close scrape before Watkins made the play in the 49th when she fired a cross from the right for Evans to get the decisive touch in a crowded goalbox (3-1).
Ireland made certain of victory in the 54th, six minutes from full-time, when Daly showed remarkable 3D skills in flipping up and over before first-timing her shot to fly just inside the near post for the 4-1 final scoreline.
Next up, SA meet world number five USA on Saturday at 3pm (live on SuperSport 8).
South Africa: Sanani Mangisa (GK), Celia Evans, Nicole Walraven, Tanya Britz, Illse Davids, Shelley Russell, Dirkie Chamberlain, Lisa Deetlefs, Kelly Madsen, Line Malan, Erin Hunter, Candice Manuel, Anelle van Deventer (GK), Lilian du Plessis, Nicolene Terblanche (capt), Bernie Coston, Jade Mayne, Quanita Bobbs.
Ireland: Emma Gray (GK), Yvonne O’Byrne, Cliodhna Sargent, Emma Smyth, Nicole Evans, Katie Mullan, Shirley McCay, Megan Frazer (capt), Gillian Pinder, Aine Connery, Ayeisha McFerran (GK), Chloe Watkins, Lizzie Colvin, Nicola Daly, Hannah Matthews, Anna O’Flanagan, Kate Dillon, Alison Meeke.
SA’s remaining Pool B matches: vs USA (Saturday, 3pm on SuperSport 8); vs Uruguay (Sunday, 1pm on SS8); vs Germany (next Tuesday, 5pm on SS7).
POOLS (world ranking in brackets) – Pool A: Argentina (3), China (7), Great Britain (8), Spain (15), Canada (20). Pool B: Germany (6), USA (5), South Africa (11), Ireland (14), Uruguay (29).