Ireland 26Australia 23
IRELAND CAME THROUGH a low-scoring second half in Dublin to beat Michael Cheika’s Wallabies 26-23, completing their first clean sweep of the November Tests since 2006.
Victory for Joe Schmidt’s side came largely on account of a blitz of Australia in the first quarter, with Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe scoring excellent tries. Once again, out-half Johnny Sexton was masterful in his kicking game, while he missed just once off the tee.
A superb defensive performance in the second half, when the Wallabies forced Ireland to make a huge number of tackles, saw Ireland secure another confidence-building win ahead of the 2015 Six Nations and World Cup.
Schmidt’s side made a stunning start, dominating the opening exchanges to lead by a remarkable 17-0 scoreline after just 16 minutes. Zebo’s firm hit on Tevita Kuridrani set an early tone, before Rhys Ruddock won a choke tackle turnover on the Wallabies’ first real attack.
A superb jackal turnover from Peter O’Mahony then allowed Sexton to kick Ireland into a 3-0 lead after six minutes and from 38 metres out. The Ireland out-half was wide with his next effort, which came from a similar distance following a wonderful Rob Kearney kick and regather.
Ireland’s first try was a peach, with Rory Best winning a clean steal in that famous choke tackle, allowing Sexton time to kick a gorgeous diagonal deep to the left and into space. Zebo did the rest, cantering onto a perfect bounce to dive over.
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Sexton converted for 10-0, before the Wallabies bounded back downfield through a clever Bernard Foley break and then a sharp offload from Israel Folau. With a huge overlap wide on the left, it looked a certainty that Cheika’s men would score, but Tommy Bowe came up with a big defensive play to prevent it.
The Ulster wing gambled and burst up out of the line to pick off Nick Phipps’ pass, streaking over 80 metres to dot down for Ireland’s second try. Again Sexton converted to send Ireland clear.
Bowe scored from a superb intercept. Source: Colm O’Neill/INPHO
As suddenly as that attacking wave had begun, it ended. The Wallabies pounced on a loose Simon Zebo offload near the halfway line in the 19th minute, bursting clear on the counter to score through Phipps. Foley converted from under the sticks.
Australia’s second try, barely four minutes later, was less clear cut. Foley cross-field kicked to Speight inside the Ireland 22, but a brave tackle from Kearney halted the powerful wing.
The Wallabies recycled short to the left, although Phipps’ pass to Foley looked forward. TMO Eric Guazins was called upon and the Frenchman indicated his belief that the pass was fine and that Foley had indeed touched down. Referee Glen Jackson awarded it.
Disbelief rang around the Aviva, but a poor conversion attempt from Foley eased the pain somewhat.
Australia’s width in attack continued to ask questions of Ireland, dragging their defensive system into disjoints and opening gaps for dangerous runners like Kuridrani, Foley and Speight.
The right wing produced a sublime offload down the right-hand side for Australia’s third try in the 31st minute. Following that touch, Matt Toomua sent Foley through on an inside pass against a disorganised Irish defence, with the out-half finding Phipps in turn.
Again the scrum-half finished, but Foley was wide with his conversion. 17-17.
Ireland did go in ahead at half time, with Sexton knocking over a penalty from the right-hand side after Luke Jones has jumped across the line-out.
Sexton was superb again for Ireland, kicking from hand expertly. Source: Colm O’Neill/INPHO
The Ireland out-half added another penalty shortly after the break when the Wallabies went off their feet at a ruck 40 metres from their tryline. Foley had a chance to equalise again two minutes later when his forwards won a scrum penalty, and he slotted it from straight in front.
Ireland’s line-out was performing stutteringly, denying clean possession to Sexton and his backs on several occasions. A daring, dangerous chip and chase from Robbie Henshaw went unpunished in the 53rd minute.
Bowe broke down the right shortly after, and with an offload inside to Murray looking on, the wing opted to carry into contact. That chance gone, Sexton kept Ireland inside the Australian half with some further excellent kicking from hand.
There was no further scoring until the final quarter, with Sexton punishing James Slipper for entering a ruck from the side in the 63rd minute, pushing Ireland into a 26-23 advantage.
The Wallabies came and came in waves of attack that asked major questions of Ireland’s defence, however. Replacement Ian Madigan was on hand to strip the ball from Slipper in Ireland’s left-hand corner with 11 minutes remaining, following a timely Zebo hit on Toomua to shut down an overlap.
Wallaby subs Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper darted, offloaded and threatened, but the likes of Paul O’Connell and McGrath doggedly made their tackles. A huge scrum penalty for Ireland inside their own 22, and on the Australian feed, in the 76th minute eased some of the pressure.
Late injuries to Sexton and Kearney forced Conor Murray to defend in the out-half position, but even those losses didn’t prevent Ireland from surviving. Australia finished on the attack, and Irish hearts were in mouths as memories of 2013 and defeat to the All Blacks resurfaced.
Schmidt’s men have come some distance in the last 12 months, however, and held on.
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (Felix Jones ’78); Tommy Bowe, Robbie Henshaw, Gordon D’Arcy (Ian Madigan ’59), Simon Zebo; Jonathan Sexton (Eoin Reddan ’78), Conor Murray (Eoin Reddan ’71 – ’76); Jack McGrath, Rory Best (Sean Cronin ’68), Mike Ross; Devin Toner (Dave Foley ’61), Paul O’Connell (capt.); Peter O’Mahony, Rhys Ruddock, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements not used: Dave Kilcoyne, Rodney Ah You, Tommy O’Donnell.
AUSTRALIA: Israel Folau,; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridriani (Kurtley Beale ’46), Matt Toomua, Henry Speight; Bernard Foley (Quade Cooper ’65), Nick Phipps (Will Genia ’69); James Slipper (Benn Robinson ’76), Saia Fainga’a (James Hanson ’71), Sekope Kepu (Tetera Faulkner ’71); Sam Carter (Will Skelton ’72), Rob Simmons; Luke Jones (Jake Schatz ’54), Michael Hooper (capt.), Ben McCalman.
Referee: Glen Jackson [NZU].
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