Thursday 13 December 2018

Furlong gives Irish breathing space to level series

Australia 21 Ireland 26

Jordi Murphy (left) and Joey Carbery celebrate at the final whistle. Photo: Brendan Moran
Jordi Murphy (left) and Joey Carbery celebrate at the final whistle. Photo: Brendan Moran
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

There is nothing as long, as empty, or as meandering, as the final week in a three-game series when the score stands at 2-0. So while the Wallabies would have celebrated long into the Melbourne night had their late chase ended with catching Ireland on the line, they too will appreciate that this is good for business.

Rugby doesn't get too much airplay in this part of the world, and much of what does get into the public domain is a lament about how things should be better. Well, having put just over 29,000 into a 30,000 AAMI Stadium in Melbourne, they will have a capacity 45,000 in Allianz Stadium in Sydney for what will be a compelling contest. They would have settled for that in the run-up to Brisbane.

As would Ireland. It was 39 years on the button since Ollie Campbell did his thing in 1979, winning Ireland their first series Down Under. Since then, various shades of defeat running to 11 Tests. At times on that run you felt Ireland had developed, in equal measure, mental and physical hurdles that kept them from going home happy.

So they can pack that one away. But at this stage of the season there isn't a lot of fuel in the tank. So discipline will be a huge deal in Sydney. Which means conceding penalties like Jack McGrath's, slapping the ball out of the hands of Nick Phipps, made it sweatier than it had to be. They may have an issue with the citing commissioner over a tackle on Will Genia in the first half when be broke his arm. Michael Cheika described as "a king hit" the seemingly blindside tackle on the scrum-half.

As for the Wallabies, for some time they have had ongoing issues with the concession of penalties, and it was more of the same here. Early in the game - despite the tonic of a Kurtley Beale try with only 1:23 on the clock - they had conceded five penalties to an Ireland side playing textbook possession football. It finished 15-12 in Ireland's favour but there was a price for the tourists as well.

After the damage done in Brisbane by David Pocock and Michael Hooper, Ireland's policy at the breakdown was clear: blitz it. It worked perfectly in terms of holding on to the ball but the human resources needed to keep the Wallabies off it meant that Ireland were short on numbers out wide. So it made the job easier for the home defence in making spot tackles. And it's really enervating stuff for the team playing that sort of rugby. Had it all caught up with them at the finish, when they had run out of forward replacements and Joey Carbery was on for Devin Toner - a unique occurrence - it would have been hard to stomach. Instead it was the Aussies feeling sore.

Andrew Conway crosses for his try. Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Andrew Conway crosses for his try. Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

"We didn't play well enough," Cheika said afterwards. "Even though we scored three tries to two, we need to trust our systems a bit better. And gave away some 50-50s (on penalties). When we do it well we're pretty good on defence and attack. The things we could have controlled we didn't control and we were playing against a very good team."

Certainly Ireland looked that way with their recovery from the Beale try. A daft tip tackle by Marika Koroibete on Rob Kearney - he could have seen red instead of yellow - opened the door to an Andrew Conway try in the corner. Where his opposite number was supposed to be.

Indeed by the time Koroibete came back on the field, his team had conceded 13 points with Johnny Sexton rattling over three penalties for a 16-7 lead. The Wallabies had pulled it back to a two-point gap by the break after a penalty try for a dropped maul, which put Cian Healy in the bin. Given the trend of the game - Beale was kicking badly and Kearney was eating them up - the tourists should have been further ahead. But man of the match Tadhg Furlong butchered a try when he couldn't connect with Garry Ringrose after the prop ran a nice line to take himself into open country.

He made amends though. In an utterly lopsided third quarter, it was Furlong who got over after Ireland had been stacking phase on top of phase. The excellent Keith Earls was twice denied - one in the corner by a great tackle from Nick Phipps, the other in the opposite corner when under pressure from Israel Folau he knocked on over the line. It was a desperately close call decided by the TMO.

Ireland's Tadhg Furlong escapes a tackle. Photo: Andy Brownbill/AP Photo
Ireland's Tadhg Furlong escapes a tackle. Photo: Andy Brownbill/AP Photo

It was a mystery how Australia kept 15 men on the field through all the penalties conceded close to their line, but Furlong's try kept the tourists happy enough.

Sexton's extras put them 23-14 in front on 54 minutes. Maybe they got a bit complacent after that for Sexton pushed them out to 26-14 with another penalty and the Wallabies had a knack of conceding possession every other time they got within sight of the Ireland sticks.

But the Taniela Tupou try with a couple of minutes left made for a stressful finish. Joe Schmidt will probably go through McGrath for a short-cut but they got away with it.

Not for the first time Ireland ended up in a very tight finish despite having so much more of the territory and possession. Some more daylight in Sydney would be good.

Scorers - Australia: Beale, Tupou tries; penalty try; Foley 2 cons. Ireland: Conway, Furlong tries; Sexton 2 cons, 4 pens

Australia: I Folau; D Haylett-Petty, S Kerevi, K Beale (R Hodge 64), M Koroibete (yc 6-16); B Foley, W Genia (N Phipps 27); S Sio (T Robertson 73), B Paenga-Amosa, S Kepu (T Tupou 51), I Rodda (P Samu 55), A Coleman (R Simmons 43), D Pocock, C Timu (L Tui h-t), M Hooper (capt)

Ireland: R Kearney; A Conway (J Larmour 15), G Ringrose, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton (J Cooney 79), C Murray; C Healy (27-37; J McGrath 46), N Scannell (R Herring 49), T Furlong (A Porter 72), J Ryan, D Toner (J Carbery 77), P O'Mahony (capt) (T Beirne 64), CJ Stander, D Leavy (J McGrath 32-37; J Murphy h-t)

Referee: P Williams (NZ)

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