Saturday 15 December 2018

Cheika offers up no excuses as he laments penalties

Australia 21 Ireland 26

Australia head coach Michael Cheika. Photo: Sportsfile
Australia head coach Michael Cheika. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

For two rampant minutes, Australia looked like they were en route to a confidence-building 2-0 series win as Kurtley Beale lit up the Melbourne night with a superb early try.

After a difficult couple of years since the World Cup, Michael Cheika's men are looking to launch their season in this series and, having gotten off to a winning start in the first Test they fully believed they could close things out in the second.

The Ireland team, led by captain Peter O'Mahony, are applauded off by Australia. Photo: Sportsfile
The Ireland team, led by captain Peter O'Mahony, are applauded off by Australia. Photo: Sportsfile

Instead, they were blown away by the relentless Irish power play that has been the hallmark of Ireland's season.

Like so many coaches before him, Cheika conceded that nothing Joe Schmidt's side did surprised him, but his team were powerless to stop it.

After stewing on their first loss in more than a year, the tourists improved their aggression and accuracy, holding on to the ball through long sets of play and they frustrated the locals.

Pressure

Ireland will regret the fact that they didn't make life more comfortable for themselves by making their pressure pay on the scoreboard, but they'll also wonder how the Wallabies kept a full complement of players on the pitch despite repeated infringements under pressure.

Ireland's Andrew Conway, left, scores a try during the international rugby match between Australia and Ireland in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, June 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Ireland's Andrew Conway, left, scores a try during the international rugby match between Australia and Ireland in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, June 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

Referee Paul Williams penalised the hosts 15 times, but only showed one yellow card to the men in gold for Marika Koroibete's tip-tackle on Rob Kearney early on.

Despite conceding three fewer penalties, Ireland lost Cian Healy and Jack McGrath to the sin-bin at the end of each half and the second yellow almost cost them the game.

It would have been a scarcely deserved win for the Australians and Cheika (above) admitted his team had been second best. He will be focusing on lowering that penalty count over the course of the week in Sydney.

"I didn't think they played much different to how they played last week," he said.

"They had a lot of ball, they tried to go down the middle and I think we just defended a little stronger in the middle last week.

"They were playing a lot of that latch player where you've got to get down low and tackle a bit lower.

"They had a lot of possession, we defended well on the line and our work ethic was good, but I thought we were slow to some attacking ruck situations when they got penalties and also I thought that in general there was too many soft penalties that piggybacked them into position or into points.

"You saw that (we lost by) five points and we scored one try more, all converted, it sort of says it all doesn't it?"

Australia will have to cope without experienced scrum-half Will Genia, who underwent surgery on a broken arm yesterday.

Cheika was unhappy with the incident involving Cian Healy that led to the defeat, but he said the Wallabies would not pursue disciplinary action against the Ireland prop.

"I'd rather look at ourselves. No excuses, mate," he said.

"We gave away too many penalties, the things we could control we didn't control and that led to losing.

"We were playing against a very good team and that led to losing."

Ireland bounced back from the early concession to take complete control, with Andrew Conway scoring a try (before hobbling off to be replaced by Jordan Larmour) and Johnny Sexton kicking his side into a commanding position as he punished the home side's discipline.

After the double-punishment of a penalty try and Healy's yellow card for pulling down a maul, the men in green needed a second try to give themselves a cushion and, after near misses for Keith Earls and McGrath, Man of the Match Tadhg Furlong powered over Nick Phipps for the all-important score.

As a high-paced 80 minutes took their toll, Ireland finished a man down and with a makeshift team and they creaked under pressure as Taniela Tupou scored.

At the end of a dominant performance they found themselves needing a big defensive set at the finish in scenes reminiscent of their 2016 win over the same opposition and when Israel Folau knocked on they could celebrate their deserved victory.

Both teams will retire to the drawing-board to come up with something different for the finale in Sydney on Saturday.

After a 15-12 penalty count in Ireland's favour, both teams will focus on their discipline and the team who improves in that department the most could edge an epic series.

Australia: I Folau; D Haylett-Petty, S Kerevi, K Beale, M Koroibete; B Foley, W Genia (N Phipps 28); S Sio (T Robertson 72), B Paenga-Amosa (T Latu 43), S Kepu (T Tupou 51); I Rodda (P Samu 56), A Coleman (R Simmons 43); D Pocock, M Hooper (capt), C Timu (L Tui h-t)

Ireland: R Kearney; A Conway (J Larmour 15), G Ringrose, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton (J Cooney 79), C Murray; C Healy (J McGrath 47)), N Scannell (R Herring 50), T Furlong (A Porter 72); D Toner (J Carbery 77), James Ryan; P O'Mahony (capt) (T Beirne 66), D Leavy (J McGrath 32 - 39, J Murphy h-t), CJ Stander

Ref - P Williams (New Zealand)

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