Ireland 27 Australia 24
A truly astonishing win given an attrition rate which left Ireland with such a cobbled together backline they may as well have been introduced to each other in the car park after alighting from the team coach. To then become only the second team to complete a hat-trick of wins over New Zealand, South Africa and Australia in the same calendar year - emualtitng England in 2003 - almost beggared belief.
As was the case two years ago, Ireland saw a 17-0 eroded, before recovering to win, this time from a 24-20 deficit. But this time they had to dig way, way deeper into their reserves of courage, unwavering belief and as much cohesion as they could muster.
After the carnage of a week ago, and having lost Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw as a result, not only was Sean O’Brien a pre-match casualty, but by half-time here they were effectively down five first-choice backs, after Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble and, just before the second-half kicked off, Jared Payne all departed from the fray.
The third, hurried re-shuffle of the game saw replacement scrumhalf Kieran Marmion come on at right-wing, with Keith Earls, who started on the left wing before shifting to the right, moved to outside centre. Simon Zebo, having initially replaced Kearney at fullback had by then moved to the left-wing, where he remained, while Joey Carbery, the back-up outhalf, was by then winning his third cap at fullback.
In effect, of the backline, only Conor Murray, Paddy Jackson and inside centre Garry Rringrose (nominally an outside centre) played the second-half in the positions they started the game.
Confused? Imagine how Ireland felt?
It’s doubtful this backline had ever lined out together before, for not even Joe Schmidt’s famed attention to detail could possibly have planned for this.
Yet men stood tall, and boys became men, in test terms, with Tadhg Furlong, Josh van der Flier and Garry Ringrose - barely mapped a year ago - immense. Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Devin Toner had big games too, as did CJ Stander, while Jared Payne oozed class in his 40 minutes on the pitch and there was significant and sizeable impacts off the bench.
After the 12-4 and 14-4 penalty counts against New Zealand, this time their discipline - witness a 13-3 penalty count - was rewarded.
Clearly noting that the Wallabies defended a little narrowly, Ireland found plenty of space on the outside edges. Indeed, a stand out feature of the game was the width with which Ireland played, which was facilitated by the pace put on the ball by the passing of Paddy Jackson and Payne, in that easy-on-the-eye, languid style of his. Ireland had done their homework, noting that the Wallabies did not commit heavily to the ruck, and went up the guts to good effect at times too.
On the down side, Ireland’s kicking game was poor and, indeed, at times downright awful, and contributed to two of Australia’s three tries. At least that should be quite fixable.
But against a Wallabies team that moved the ball out of contact at times sublimely, albeit they left tries behind, the sheer bravery and defiance of Ireland’s defence - epitomised by Marmion - was amazing.
Unsurprisingly, O’Brien had been ruled out well before kick-off with a hip flexor strain which he sustained in Thursday’s training session and, having worsened, obliged him to miss Friday’s captain’s run. JP Doyle, the Irish-born, English official, was also replaced as a touch judge by Nigel Owens, after he had refereed Connacht’s win over Cardiff on Friday night in Galway.
On becoming only the fifth Irish player, and 43rd overall, to reach the milestone of 100 caps, Rory Best led the team out accompanied by his kids, Ben (six) and Penny (four), and lined up for the presidential greeting and the anthems with them and the two team mascots.
Oddly, Jackson’s kick-off targeted, of all people, Israel Folau - who has no peers in the air. But when the Wallabies went wide to Dane Haylett-Petty, he was tackled low over the ball and when Murray was quickly in over the ball none of three Wallabies could shift him.
Ireland eschewed the three-point option by going to the corner, patiently attacking from off the top ball through 15 phases, with Stander carrying three times, to earn another penalty and this time again turn down the shot at goal by going to the right corner. The lift and the throw could perhaps both have been higher, but Dean Mumm - picked specifically for this purpose - claimed the ball one-handed from Devin Toner’s two-handed grasp. Thereafter though, the Irish lineout would deliver a steady stream of quality ball for the remainder of the half.
From another lineout, and an off the top take by Stander, Ireland went wide but Trimble’s pass looped high over Earls into touch. Payne’s pass then enabled Rob Kearney to get outside Henry Speight and link with Trimble, but the fullback slipped into Folau’s shoulder and, having been a concussion doubt during the week, was taken for a head injury assessment and did not return.
Again Ireland went to the corner, and this time the maul was clearly brought down by Sekope Kepu, and right under the nose of Jerome Garces, in what was arguably their most cynical if unpunished act of a half which ended with an 8-1 penalty count.
So that meant, in sharp contrast to the eventual 21-point haul off close-range lineouts in Chicago, but akin to last week’s meeting with the All Blacks, Ireland had zero return from two five metre throws.
Ireland’s kicking game wasn’t the best either, Murray box-kicking down the throat of Henry Speight before Folau emphatically claimed an up-and-under by Jackson under pressure from Ringrose.
But after van der Flier’ presence at the breakdown forced a fumble by Will Genia, Henderson carried hard into contact for a second time, Moore didn’t roll away after the tackle as Pocock also went off his feet in looking for a poach, to make the penalty count 5-0 at that time.
At last, Ireland opted to punish such ill-discipline when Jackson landed the 45 metre penalty unerringly to open the scoring.
Payne’s loop and transfer then led to Zebo and Trimble linking intricately out wide, and Best executed a choke tackle on Arnold for a turnover, before Jackson showed his pace and linked with Trimble.
Then Australia’s lack of discipline went over the edge when Tadhg Furlong went for a poach. Trying to clear him out from the side, Mumm lifted Furlong up and dumped head first on the ground. As an aside, it also looked as if Furlong had another Australian hand or fingers near his eyes, which may lead to something more. In any event, after recourse to his TMO Eric Gauzins, Garces opted for a yellow card, even after he was encouraged by Owens, who ventured “it could be more”, to have another look.
To Mumm’s benefit, and to Furlong’s credit too, the Irish prop didn’t milk it.
Better still, from the penalty up the line inside halfway, Trimble trucked it up from Payne’s inside pass, and Jackson fed Best on his inside, before Jackson went wide to Zebo off the next recycle. Zebo, as he had done in Chicago and a week previously, demonstrated his ever-improving array of attacking kicks, with delicious grubber into the turf, which bounced wickedly and was gathered by Earls, who offloaded for the supporting Henderson to gallop in from almost 20 metres and taking Genia’s tackle for the try. Jackson converted.
On the half-hour mark, Trimble was forced to trudge off, which meant the introduction of Joey Carbery. Rather than reshuffle everything, the ripple effects saw Carbery slot in at an unfamiliar fullback role, with Earls moving to right wing and Zebo to the left.
Just before Mumm’s return, the Irish pack rumbled remorselessly from the ensuing lineout drive, again opting to go to the corner when the maul was illegally brought down. From Stander’s take, Murray’s pass went behind Furlong, but as so often happens when the ball hits the deck, everyone freezes. Ringrose didn’t, picking up and cutting back against the grain before straightening through - helped by Devin Toner holding his ground inside Arnold. Garces had a look before confirming the score, and Jackson made it 17-0.
One sensed that keeping Australia out in their pre-interval salvo was crucial. But after they, Ireland untypically messed up a strike move, Jackson skewed a left-footed kick up the line out on the full. More true to Wallaby type, from this strike move off a line-out, Kuridrani trucked it up and from second phase, Hooper took Foley’s inside pass to beat Best’s tackle, linking with Folau who took Trimble’s tackle and took Carbery out of the game with a try-scoring inside pass to Haylett-Petty, who scored under the posts.
Revived, the Wallabies were given another lift when Payne, who had taken a blow to his lower back near the end of the half, felt it go as the teams returned to the pitch, and Marmion was introduced on the wing, for the second week running, and cue the third, hurried reshuffle.
It soon looked like deck chairs on the Titanic.
Australia immediately upped the tempo, generating quick ball to outflank an understandably narrow Irish defence, and Marmion was soon making a try-saving tackle on Haylett-Petty before Owens decreed that a ‘try-scoring pass’ by Pocock to Haylett-Petty was marginally forward, which it was.
But, unsurprisingly, it was only a temporary reprieve. Australia went wide right and then wide left to Ireland’s vulnerable right flank in what looked almost like a trimming run such was the easy rhythm of their passing, good hands by Haylett-Petty and Folau put Kuridrani over in the corner to maintain his try a game run on this tour. Foley’s touchline conversion even squeezed over to make it 17-14.
A Jackson penalty made it 20-14 before Folau butchered an overlap and the crowd, as much in a desperate need to lift the men in green, bellowed The Fields.
But then it was Zebo’s turn to screw a left-footed kick out on the full, and with his first touch the Wallabies’ electric replacement winger Sefa Naivalu scored after good hands by Foley and Haylett-Petty. Again Foley converted, and then tagged on a penalty. At 20-24 Ireland’s goose looked cooked.
Ireland needed a lift, and cometh the hour, or two minutes past it, cometh the man. It was Zebo, of all people who shot up from the line to nail Michael Hooper with a ball and all tackle close to the Wallabies try line and effectively earn the attacking lineout.
What followed, in the circumstances, was one of the great tries. On and on Ireland went through the phases, a fired up Peter O’Mahony and Cian Healy injecting real ball-carrying ballast off the bench. From a big carry by Furlong, again immense, and Ultan Dillane’s clear-out, Zebo’s skip pass put Earls over in the corner. Jackson landed the touchline conversion.
Even so, Hodge fumbled with the try-line begging, and Kuridrani was held up in hugely important choke tackle by Ringrose, van der Flier and Best. McMahon was pinged for not releasing, but when Jackson kicked to Folau thankfully Naivalu’s offload eluded Kuridrani on the touchline.
That was their last big chance, Ringrose putting in one monster hit to keep the Wallabies checked in their own half, and Bealham won one final turnover before Foley was penalised and binned for the ensuing tip tackle on Toner.
In the final act of a game which hinged on a myriad of factors, one of which was Ireland’s superior front-row replacements, their scrum turned the screw on the Wallabies’ put-in for Jackson to hoof the penalty into the stands.
Some performance. Some day. Some win.
Scoring sequence: 18 mins Jackson pen 3-0; 24 mins Henderson try, Jackson con 10-0; 34 mins Ringrose try, Jackson con 17-0; 40 mins Haylett-Petty try, Foley con 17-7; (halft-ime 17-7); 46 mins Kuridrani try, Foley con 17-14; 57 mins Naivalu try, Foley con 20-21; 60 mins Foley pen 20-24; 66 mins Earls, Jackson con 27-24.
Ireland: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster), Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster); Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Jack McGrath (St. Mary's College/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt), Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster), Sean O'Brien (UCD/Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster). Replacements: Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster) for Kearney (11 mins), Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Leinster) for Trimble (31 mins), Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) for Payne (half-time), Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht) for Henderson (56 mins), Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) for McGrath, Peter O'Mahony (Cork Con/Munster) for Heaslip (both 61 mins), Finlay Bealham (Buccaneers/Connacht) for Furlong (71 mins), Sean Cronin (St. Mary's College/Leinster) for Best (76 mins)
Australia: Israel Folau (Waratahs); Dane Haylett-Petty (Force), Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies), Reece Hodge (Rebels), Henry Speight (Brumbies); Bernard Foley (Waratahs), Will Genia (Stade Francais); Scott Sio (Brumbies), Stephen Moore (Brumbies) (capt), Sekope Kepu (Waratahs), Rory Arnold (Brumbies), Rob Simmons (Reds), Dean Mumm (Waratahs), Michael Hooper (Waratahs), David Pocock (Brumbies). Replacements: Kane Douglas (Reds) for Arnold (half-time), Sefanaia Naivalu (Rebels) for Speight (56 mins), James Slipper (Reds) for Sio, Allan Alaalatoa (Brumbies) for Kepu, Sean McMahon (Rebels) for Simmons (all 68 mins), Tolu Latu (Waratahs) for Moore (76 mins), Quade Cooper (Reds) for Hodge (80 mins). Not used: Nick Phipps (Waratahs),
Sinbinned: Mumm (24-34 mins), Foley (80 mins).
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)