Ireland withstood a ferocious second-half fight-back from Australia to defeat their opponents 27-24 in front of a packed Aviva Stadium on Saturday night. The result ensured that Ireland had defeated South Africa, New Zealand and Australia inside a calendar year for the first time in their history.
Without Robbie Henshaw, Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien due to injury, Ireland were up against a side that not only competed in last year’s Rugby World Cup Final, but also an outfit that were seeking their first Grand Slam northern hemisphere tour triumph since 1984 having already defeated Wales, Scotland and France in previous weeks.
Throughout most of the first-half, Ireland comprehensively bossed both possession and territory statistics much like they had during the second-half of last week’s game against the All Blacks, but this time, they took advantage.
Having initially been resisted by a resilient Australian blitz defence, Ireland hit the front on the 17th minute through a Paddy Jackson penalty some 40 meters out.
The game’s first moment of real controversy came after 22 minutes when Australia’s Dean Mumm appeared to lift Tadhg Furlong up in the air and land him on his neck. Referees have been instructed by World Rugby to severely penalise any incidents of dangerous tackling and when referee Jerome Garces consulted with touch judge Nigel Owens, he issued a yellow card for Mumm.
Ireland couldn’t take advantage of their numerical superiority against the All Blacks last week but when Iain Henderson profited from a Dean Mumm-less driving-maul to eventually trundle over the line from 15 metres, Ireland had their first try and led 10-0 after 25 minutes.
On 33 minutes, Garry Ringrose showed his worth by scoring a simply mesmeric try. Ringrose slipped and squeezed past five helpless Australian defenders before finding the try-line. There was a suspicion of blocking by Devon Toner in the direct lead-up to the try, but Garces, after consulting with his TMO, awarded the try to give Ireland a commanding 17-0 score.
Listless and ineffective up to that point, Australia, right on the brink of half-time, showed a glimpse of their true worth. Dane Haylett-Petty was the ultimate beneficiary of an expansive Australian attacking move which showcased their offloading prowess. Petty went under the posts to end first-half proceedings. Ireland led 17-7
Ireland richly deserved their half-time advantage as they had dominated possession, territory and had hassled and harried the Wallabies which had resulted in Australia giving away far too many penalties.
However, as the old cliché goes, it’s a game of two halves, and that was certainly the case at the Aviva.
Australia, clearly spurned on by their failings in the first half, attacked Ireland at will in what was a truly frightening spell of attacking rugby in the early stages of the second half.
Every time Australia went wide, even in the first-half, they’d caused Ireland to scramble and when they did so by passing to Israel Folau who then juggled it to Kurindrani in the 46th minute, the Australians had their second try of the night and trailed by a mere 3 points.
Things got worse for Ireland when, on 56 minutes, sub Naivalu skipped past Joey Carbery to power over the line for Australia’s third try of the night. Ireland’s Paddy Jackson had slotted a penalty moments prior to relieve the constant Wallaby pressure but back came the Australians to claim a 21-20 advantage.
In the face of constant Wallaby pressure, Ireland gave away a penalty which Bernard Foley duly popped between the posts to increase Australia’s advantage to 24-20.
Ireland, having led 17-0 with only seconds remaining in the first-half, had conceded 24-3 in the next 20 minutes to leave them staring defeat in the face.
However, Ireland weren’t done yet. Following a penalty for yet another high tackle by Dean Mumm, Ireland elected to go for the corner. From there, Munster’s Keith Earls squeezed into the corner to score Ireland’s third try of the night. Paddy Jackson hit the conversion from a near-impossible angle to give Ireland a 27-24 advantage with 14 minutes remaining.
In the remaining minutes, Ireland withstood everything Australia threw at them yet they will be thankful for a few uncharacteristic blunders by the Wallabies that could have taken the game away from Ireland. Nevertheless, Ireland won an absorbing affair by 27-24.
Ireland signed off their Autumn Internationals with victory over Australia which put an end to the Wallabies’ hopes of a first northern hemisphere grand slam since 1984. Ireland will now look forward to the Six Nations with renewed confidence and vigour in full knowledge that, in 2016, they have defeated the big southern hemisphere three of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.