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Resilient defence holds out in epic Australian clash

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Simon Zebo, Ireland, skips past the tackle of Nick Phipps, Australia, to score his side's first try off the game

Simon Zebo, Ireland, skips past the tackle of Nick Phipps, Australia, to score his side's first try off the game

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Jamie Heaslip and Peter O'Mahony, Ireland, celebrate after Ian Madigan, below centre, turns over the ball at the end of the game

Jamie Heaslip and Peter O'Mahony, Ireland, celebrate after Ian Madigan, below centre, turns over the ball at the end of the game

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Rob Kearney, Ireland, is tackled by Henry Speight, Australia

Rob Kearney, Ireland, is tackled by Henry Speight, Australia

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Paul O'Connell, Ireland, wins a ball from Luke Jones, Australia

Paul O'Connell, Ireland, wins a ball from Luke Jones, Australia

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Tommy Bowe, Ireland, runs free for his side's second try of the game

Tommy Bowe, Ireland, runs free for his side's second try of the game

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Tommy Bowe, Ireland, touches down for his side's second try of the game despite the tackle of Adam Ashley-Cooper, Australia

Tommy Bowe, Ireland, touches down for his side's second try of the game despite the tackle of Adam Ashley-Cooper, Australia

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Simon Zebo, Ireland, sprints past Nick Phipps, Australia, to score his side's first try

Simon Zebo, Ireland, sprints past Nick Phipps, Australia, to score his side's first try

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Robbie Henshaw, Ireland, is tackled by Ben McCalman, Australia

Robbie Henshaw, Ireland, is tackled by Ben McCalman, Australia

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Simon Zebo, Ireland, skips past the tackle of Nick Phipps, Australia, to score his side's first try off the game

What a Test match: from 17-0 for Ireland after 15 minutes to level at half-time, and for most of the last 16 minutes of the second half the home side had to fight a rearguard action that will be worth watching over a few times. It was one of those edge-of-the-cliff endings for Ireland, where one mistake was certain to plummet them either to a drawn game - which would have felt like a loss - or to outright defeat.

Instead they got it all right, hanging on with the last play appropriately seeing a steal from Ian Madigan under the west stand. His larceny happened perhaps 25 metres from the spot a year ago where he got the blame in the last play against New Zealand. When he came up with the ball, waving it like a trophy, you immediately got the full sense of how important this was.

Maybe a cold review of the day will throw up something different but for a long time this didn't look like a game Ireland were going to win. The remarkable thing about it was how their defensive display improved the longer it went on. Man of the match Paul O'Connell - who made a match-defining hit on Ben McCalman when most needed, in the endgame, somehow had some breath left at the end.

"It was a great win," he said. "We had a great start and let them back into the game with some poor defending in the first half, but I felt we were better in the second half and our 'D' was better. We got off the line much faster."

And how they needed to, ending up making 139 tackles to Australia's 91.

All week behind the scenes we could hear the unmistakable sound of green and gold wagons being circled. New Wallaby coach Michael Cheika came on tour at short notice, without an attack coach, and with neither time nor space to shape the style of play the way he wants. So focusing a great deal on the canine element, getting some mongrel into the Australians, was a given.

Sure enough that's what we got at the breakdown, where the Wallabies had a really potent combination of accuracy and aggression. The tourists found themselves 17-0 down after 15 minutes without having done a whole lot wrong, and just when you wondered were they beginning to hear the sound of breaking surf at home, they kept on keeping on and caused Ireland more trouble with each contact.

Their attacking shape was excellent, their exit plays from the 22 were crisp and accurate, and not until the final whistle did they look like a beaten team. And this after an early blitz that had seen a Rory Best turnover opening the door to a Simon Zebo try on 12 minutes, which along with a Johnny Sexton penalty seven minutes earlier put the home team 10-0 clear. Then the sickener came with a Tommy Bowe intercept - a great read when the Aussies had a three-man overlap - which he finished from 70 metres for Sexton to make it 17-0.

From there however it sped downhill for Ireland before arresting the decline late in the second half, despite six of the eight forwards having to fill an 80-minute shift. The lineout turned into a disaster zone, with four balls lost - two of them crooked - and the tourists looked far more comfortable with ball in hand. In the second quarter Sexton went through a loose period with his kicking out of hand - he went off looking a little dazed in the last couple of minutes of the second period - but it was his two terrific penalties from long range after the break which kept his team in the game.

You expect Sexton to lead, as you do the utterly selfless Peter O'Mahony, and Conor Murray, who made a couple of errors but mostly was excellent, and returned from a spell in the head bin late in the day. Behind the scrum Rob Kearney - he too went off with what seemed to be concussion, along with Gordon D'Arcy - was excellent, and Bowe had a big game.

Australia's comeback started with a two-try blitz in five minutes midway through the first period, from the excellent Nick Phipps, and Bernard Foley, with Ireland giving them easy outs from their 22, and between Foley and Sexton it was all square at the break.

The outhalves went tit for tat early in the second half - again a poor exit from Ireland's 22 after Sexton's whopper on 45 minutes gave Foley his chance - and neither side could make any more headway until Sexton added another long-range shot on 64 minutes.

At that point you wouldn't have got great odds on Ireland seeing this one through to the finish, for the last thing they offered was a serious threat to the Wallaby defence with ball in hand. Rather, the pressure might come from the scrum, where the away side were only 50 per cent successful on just four put-ins, or at the breakdown. It was in that final quarter that Ireland's defensive shape looked its soundest, which will be pleasing to Joe Schmidt given the circumstances this time last year when he started out with this team. Unfortunately he was removed to hospital late in the day with suspected appendicitis, so however that turns out he will have a bit of time to review this game, and indeed the series, at leisure.

The first clean sweep since 2006 is a great achievement, but he talks all the time about the performance. There was no room in this one for any more commitment, but a fair bit of space for more quality in attack.

Scorers - Ireland: S Zebo, T Bowe try each; J Sexton 4 pens, 2 cons. Australia: N Phipps 2 tries; B Foley try, 2 pens, con.

Ireland: 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 71-77 temp); J McGrath, R Best (S Cronin 68), M Ross, D Toner (D Foley 62), P O'Connell (capt), P O'Mahony, J Heaslip, R Ruddock.

Australia: I Folau; A Ashley-Cooper, T Kuridrani (K Beale 46), M Toomua, H Speight; B Foley (Q Cooper 65), N Phipps (W Genia 68); J Slipper (B Robinson 76), S Fainga'a (J Hanson 71), S Kepu (T Faulkner 71), S Carter (W Skelton 72), R Simmons, L Jones (J Schatz 54), B McCalman, R Hooper.

Referee: G Jackson (NZ)

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