Another terrific defensive performance by Ireland gave them the perfect ending to a magnificent international season as they pipped Australia in Dublin. The game itself was hugely entertaining, with an unbelievable opening that had Ireland up 17 points before the end of the first quarter. Australia’s rally to take the lead before half was equally remarkable, and though the points never quite materialize in the second act, the drama was there through the end and the atmosphere at the Aviva was superb.
The Wallabies did amazingly well to hold their composure after the extraordinary opening, particularly after Tommy Bowe’s intercept on a play that had Australian try written all over it. Nick Phipps had his own similar sort against the run of play, and then Bernard Foley got an early Christmas gift from the TMO. Why Eric Gauzins chose to replay that camera angle over and over to adjudicate the angle of the pass, when a clear and obvious overhead shot was available, is a mystery only he can answer. How he could rule from either that the pass was not forward is one for the rugby gods.
There were no such questions of legitimacy on the second Phipps try. The move started inside the Australian 22 and was inspired by some Henry Speight magic that would have bamboozled the stingiest defense. Foley flubbed two kickable conversions before redeeming himself with a penalty to give Australia the lead, but Jonny Sexton made sure it wasn’t for long.
Pressure defined the second half. Foley and Sexton exchanged early kicks and the score stayed level. No-one would begrudge the Wallabies for feeling hard done by when Glen Jackson penalised James Slipper for side entry, with just about every referee in the peanut gallery muttering under their breath that Robbie Henshaw was the guilty party. Perhaps it was karma atoning for the sins of Gauzins. Sexton accepted the free pass and Ireland had their lead.
Ironically it was composure that failed Australia in the dying minutes. They had everything they needed to find a win, but in simplest terms they dropped the ball. The intense pressure of the Irish defense, led by captain Paul O’Connell and a tireless Peter O’Mahony, certainly contributed heavily to the slips, and the coaching staff deserves praise for another flawless game plan. Sexton can also take another bow with another immaculate kicking demonstration. His tactical precision was straight out of Ronan O’Gara’s cook book for back three nightmares.
Two southern hemisphere giants have fallen in three weeks, and though the Six Nations will reveal more about this side, the signs suggest a spot in the semi-final next October is not at all an unreasonable target. It’s a good time to be an Irish rugby fan.
IRELAND 26 vs 23 AUSTRALIA
Saturday, November 22, 16:30 GMT, Dublin
06 mins – J. Sexton pen 3-0
12 mins – S. Zebo try 8-0
13 mins – J. Sexton con 10-0
15 mins – T. Bowe try 15-0
16 mins – J. Sexton con 17-0
18 mins – N. Phipps try 17-5
19 mins – B. Foley con 17-7
22 mins – B. Foley try 17-12
31 mins – N. Phipps try 17-17
36 mins – B. Foley pen 17-20
40 mins – J. Sexton pen 20-20
45 mins – J. Sexton pen 23-20
49 mins – B. Foley pen 23-23
64 mins – J. Sexton pen 26-23
R. Kearney (F. Jones 78); T. Bowe, R. Henshaw, G. D’Arcy (I. Madigan 59), S. Zebo; J. Sexton (E. Reddan 78), C. Murray (E. Reddan 71-75); J. McGrath, R. Best (S. Cronin 67), M. Ross; D. Toner (D. Foley 61), P. O’Connell (capt.); P. O’Mahony, R. Ruddock, J. Heaslip.
I. Folau; H. Speight, T. Kuridrani (K. Beale 46), M. To’omua, A. Ashley-Cooper; B. Foley (Q. Cooper 64), N. Phipps (W. Genia 68); J. Slipper (B. Robinson 75), S. Fainga’a (J. Hanson 71), S. Kepu (T. Faulkner 71); S. Carter (W. Skelton 72), R. Simmons; L. Jones (J. Schatz 54), M. Hooper (capt.), B. McCalman.
Referee: G. Jackson (NZRU)
Assistants: N. Owens (WRU) & M. Fraser (NZRU)
TMO: E. Gauzins (FFR)