Ireland complete Tri Nations clean sweep after outlasting Australia in six-try thriller
Ireland 27 Australia 24
Ireland have claimed a famous triple crown of Southern Hemisphere scalps in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Despite losing three of their starting backs to injury and a 17-point 39th minute lead, Keith Earls’ try secured a famous win for Joe Schmidt’s side.
Ireland are the first team to beat New Zealand, South African and the Wallabies in the same calendar year since Clive Woodward’s World Cup winning England team in 2003.
That side learned how to manage adversity and Schmidt’s callow charges showed bags of courage in digging deep to overcome adversity.
Already without Sean O’Brien, injuries to Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne forced Schmidt into a situation where he had Joey Carbery at full-back, Earls in the centre and Kieran Marmion on the wing for the entire second-half.
The Wallabies, who were denied possession and territory in a torrid first-half, opened up and at the hour-mark they took the lead.
But, as the game looked to get away from them, Ireland’s new leaders emerged with CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Tadhg Furlong and Garry Ringrose in particular stood tall.
The Leinster centre was exceptional, scoring his first Test try and making some huge defensive interventions.
Ireland captain Rory Best celebrated his 100th cap with a famous win.
"The crowd gave us an incredible lift, this is a great bunch of boys.We had changes before the game, early changes in the game and everyone dug deep," an emotional Best said.
"I can't take my hat off enough to the boys. It's a special day. Australia were in flying form, we're very happy.
"It's been quite a 12 months since the World Cup. I'll not take the credit, the coaching staff from Joe down helps us but some young guys stepped up and there's a very bright future for Irish rugby."
O’Brien’s absence with a hip-flexor injury was confirmed an hour and a half before kick-off, but thankfully for Ireland it wasn’t a double-blow as Jared Payne was fit enough to start.
Ireland got the chance to start on the front-foot as Reece Hodge went off his feet as Australia tried to engineer their exit and Paddy Jackson kicked to touch and they attacked impressively through a series of phases and forced another penalty after hogging the ball which the out-half stuck in the corner.
Dean Mumm got up in front of Devin Toner and picked Best’s throw off and the failings from the All Blacks defeat reared their head once again.
Iain Henderson won one back for Ireland, but again Ireland’s attack was a little loose and Conor Murray kicked the ball dead when trying to set Keith Earls up.
The familiarities with last week continued as Kearney was forced off with a head injury, but Jackson finally got his side on the board with a long-range penalty after Stephen Moore was penalised for not rolling away.
Ireland had plenty of width in their attack and Payne was heavily involved as they tested the Wallabies in ball-in-hand, but their good play came undone through good Australian scrambling after Simon Zebo made a fine break, or some loose passing after a fine Jackson run.
Like New Zealand, Australia were getting on the wrong side of the referee and Jerome Garces ordered Dean Mumm off for 10 minutes for tipping Furlong at a ruck. He, and his colleague Rob Simmons whose hands were dangerously close to the Ireland player’s eye area, could count themselves lucky.
The home side struck instantly from the resultant lineout through Iain Henderson who was in the right place to receive Earls’ pop pass after the Munsterman ran on to a delicious Zebo chip through.
Jackson converted and, although they lost Andrew Trimble to an ankle injury, the Irish dominance continued and their powerful scrum earned more field position.
Although Ireland’s first attack ran aground, more ill-discipline from Moore saw them handed another chance from 5m and Garry Ringrose got his first try for his country as he picked up a loose Murray pass and availed of some clever blocking from Devin Toner on Arnold to touch down.
Having survived on scraps for most of the half, Australia finally got some oxygen from their scrum and attacked up the left through Dane Haylett-Petty who chipped inside for Reece Hodge. He attempted to pop the ball up for an onrushing team-mate, but Ringrose got himself in the way and Ireland survived.
They finally got on the board on the stroke of half-time with a trade-mark set-play, punishing an awful Jackson kick to touch.
Clever lines of running freed Michael Hooper up the middle, he off-loaded to Folau and the brilliant full-back sent Haylett-Petty over and Foley converted to close the half-time gap to 17-7.
Having lost Kearney and Trimble, Payne followed at half-time and Ireland had to completely refigure their backline with scrum-half Kieran Marmion on the wing.
Australia almost profited straight away but Henry Speight was called back for a David Pocock forward-pass, but the signs were ominous.
The complexion of the game had changed utterly and the visitors were on the front-foot forcing Ireland to make tackle after tackle before Tevita Kuridrani touched down on Marmion’s wing to narrow the gap to five.
Foley converted to close it further, but Earls forced Australia to mess up the restart and Kane Douglas came in from the side after good work from Marmion and Tadhg Furlong to hand Jackson a chance to settle things from the tee.
A pulsating game almost swung again on an intelligent piece of play from Pocock who flummoxed Murray and the local crowd by exploiting the lack of a ruck to race into what looked like an offside position and take the Ireland scrum-half’s pass. However, his team-mates couldn’t exploit the advantage and Ireland escaped.
It wouldn’t last for long as the home side’s poor kicking failed to get them out of their own half and the increasingly potent Wallaby backline was only too happy to tear them asunder as Sefanaia Naivalu stepped inside Joey Carbery to score.
Foley’s conversion edged the visitors in front and there looked to be only one winner from there.
The out-half added a penalty, but Ireland finally got some possession and field-position from the re-start and a high Mumm tackle on Ringrose handed them a chance to attack from with the ’22.
The maul came up short, but Ireland kept the faith and went through their phases with Furlong, Stander and Peter O’Mahony all carrying hard. It looked like the chance had passed when Jackson chose a short ball off when the wide pass was on, but from the next phase Zebo found Earls and he touched down to put his side in front again.
Jackson nailed the touch-line conversion and back came Australia who again looked to Marmion’s wing, but couldn’t score when Kuridrani’s couldn’t connect to Hodge with the final pass.
The big Fijian centre was causing all sorts of problems, but a brilliant choke-tackle from Ringrose, Ultan Dillane and Josh van der Flier forced a pivotal turnover as Ireland clung on to their three-point lead.
The scrum creaked, but CJ Stander made what felt like his 100th carry, Sean McMahon failed to roll away and Jackson could relieve the pressure as the end-game approached.
It was reminiscent of 2014 as Cheika’s men surged forward in search of the winning score. Ringrose made a huge hit, Carbery took a high ball under pressure from Folau, Sean Cronin nailed three pressure-throws and Finlay Bealham won a crucial turnover.
New leaders everywhere.
In the end, Foley tipped Toner beyond the horizontal and Jackson could kick to the corner.
Cronin’s throw to the tail stuck, Ireland tried to maul the clock down but the Australians forced one last scrum.
IRELAND -- R Kearney (S Zebo 12 HIA); A Trimble (J Carbery 25), J Payne (K Marmion h-t), G Ringrose, K Earls; P Jackson, C Murray; J McGrath (C Healy 61), R Best (capt) (S Cronin 76), T Furlong (F Bealham 71); I Henderson (U Dillane 56), D Toner; CJ Stander, J van der Flier, J Heaslip (P O’Mahony 62).
AUSTRALIA – I Folau; D Haylett-Petty, T Kuridrani, R Hodge (Q Cooper 80), H Speight; B Foley, W Genia; S Sio (J Slipper 68), S Moore (capt) (T Latu), S Kepu (A Alaalatoa 68); R Arnold (K Douglas h-t(), R Simmons (S McMahon 68); D Mumm, M Hooper, D Pocock.
Referee: J Garces (France)