Ireland dig deep to lay ghost of All-Blacks defeat

Win over Australia means Irish clean sweep of winter international rugby series

Gerry Thornley and Liam Toland give their full time reaction as Ireland beat Australia 26-23. Video: Daniel O'Connor

 

Ultimately, it was a rollercoaster akin to that of the final Saturday of November last year. Perhaps not quite on the same epic scale, but not far from it either. The minor difference this time, of course, was that Ireland held on to win in a throbbing, raucous Aviva, and, just possibly, losing to New Zealand in the last play of that game sowed the seeds of this seventh successive win.

Then, a Rob Kearney breakaway try put Ireland 19-0 ahead inside 17 minutes, before eventually being collared 24-22 by New Zealand with the last play of the game. Here, a Tommy Bowe intercept try secured a 17-0 lead by the 15th minute, before this time they forced a turnover penalty with the last play of the game as Irish bodies were again falling like nine pins.

Seismic roar

Ian MadiganJoe Schmidt

Ireland’s need was greater, all the more so having gone 17-0 up; to lose from there would have haunted them for ever more. Australia’s response was brilliant. They scored a trio of tries during a high-octane, high-tempo spell of 20 unanswered points in 20 minutes, which had left Ireland grasping and gasping. Indeed, but for Bowe’s intercept, it might have been four tries to one, and 27 unanswered points in a 24-minute spell. By the end of a wild and whacky first-half, the two sides had contrived to match their final score of 20-all from five autumns ago in half the time.

Goalkicking

Johnny SextonMichael Cheika

After a brace of Sexton penalties, Ireland’s first try by Simon Zebo (has he quickened?) from Sexton’s kick into space originated in Devin Toner and Peter O’Mahony initiating a choke tackle on Luke Jones and Best ripping the ball from him. This was one of 17 tackles by the mighty O’Mahony.

“Tell your number six to calm down,” Glen Jackson informed Paul O’Connell, which must have been music to the skipper’s ears.

Bowe’s intercept try when cutting off a three-on-one run- in by picking off Nick Phipps’ pass to make it 17-0, rather than 10-7, originated in Israel Folau first being afforded the space to counter by Conor Murray’s overcooked box kick and then offloading to get Ben McCalman over the gain line, and there would have been an Aussie try the phase before but for Jack McGrath and Robbie Henshaw pushing up to envelope Sekope Kepu.

Ireland went for the jugular, perhaps too much so for Schmidt’s liking. There were a couple of poor missed tackles by Rory Best and Rob Kearney as Nick Phipps slalomed in from half-way, but Schmidt will assuredly go back to the origins of the score and specifically Zebo’s attempted around-the- corner pass which Foley palmed down for the ball to fall invitingly into the hands of Phipps.

That seemed to vindicate the way Schmidt’s Ireland limit risks on the ball, although it has to be said Zebo has never played better in a green jersey, especially in defence. He augmented a good chasing game by persistently coming off his wing to prevent overlaps and was the most productive backline tackler in green with 10. Schmidt is making him a better player.

Unhinged

Matt Toomua

Australia began to look more and more comfortable, and at ease with being invited into a game of glorified beach rugby. They have added the physicality one expects of a Michael Cheika team and married this to their customary attacking shape, while bringing much the more incisive strike moves.

Grateful to draw level when Sexton cancelled out a Foley penalty with the last kick of the half, to then restrict these Wallabies to three points by winning the second half 6-3 was an awesome effort, as once again the Joe Schmidt Brains Trust had a profound impact on a game at half-time.

Thanks to two more wonderful strikes by Sexton, Ireland won that second-half 6-3 by rolling up their sleeves, controlling the tempo more and retaining possession by utilising their maul and setting closer-in targets, by not taking undue risks on the ball and by not kicking it away profligately.

It was pragmatic winning rugby, but they still had to sharpen line speed in defence while committing fewer bodies to rucks, thereby crowding the Wallabies array of gamebreakers – they had three out-halves on the pitch for the final 34 minutes – and most of all Ireland had to dig deep. Very deep.

This was epitomised by oul’ Superman himself, Paul O’Connell, twice coming off the line to nail McCalman and Kurtley Beale in the final play. As long as Ireland do as he does, they can beat anybody.

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