Ireland set up mouthwatering series decider after overpowering Australia to win in second test
Australia 21 Ireland 26
Having promised during the week to bring a whole new level of intensity to their game, Ireland delivered just that in Melbourne.
In front of a crowd of 29,018 – a raft of them wearing green – the tourists kept the series alive with a hugely physical performance.
They go to Sydney tomorrow where they will prepare for Saturday knowing they have what it takes to break new ground by winning a first series here in the professional era. Despite having two players carded – Jack McGrath followed Cian Healy in the last few minutes, which opened the door to Taniela Tupou – Ireland were by far the more disciplined side.
Nevertheless 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 Cheka described as “a king hit” the seemingly blind side tackle on the scrumhalf which ended his game.
They had to hang in the last couple of minutes, running out of forward replacements, but fully deserved their success. With a view to putting bums on seats in Sydney, it was also the result the series needed.
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 possession but the human resources needed to keep the Wallabies off the ball meant that Ireland were short on numbers out wide. So it made the job easier for the home defence in making spot tackles.
Even so Ireland were extremely efficient. And they had to be given the awful start. They were seven points down with only 1:23 on the clock when Kurtley Beale stepped inside a gaping hole in the Irish defence where CJ Stander was caught out.
To their credit Ireland moved on as if it had never happened. And they were helped by Marika Koroibete tipping Rob Kearney in a tackle that could – had Kearney landed on his head instead of his shouder – ended in red instead of yellow.
As an exercise in making hay while the sun shines however the tourists were faultless. By the time the wing got out of the bin his side had conceded 13 points. Straight away Ireland went to the corner and came up with a try for Andrew Conway, taking advantage of the absence of his opposite number.
Then three penalties in a row from Johnny Sexton – the Aussies conceded five before they got one themselves – had the tourists 16-7 ahead and looking very comfortable.
That changed quicktime with a penalty try conceded for dropping a maul on the line, and a binning for Cian Healy. That allowed the Wallabies close the gap to just two points, and with Sexton shanking a penalty on the half hour mark it stayed at 16-14 at the break.
By the 55th minute Ireland were on 83 per cent territory and 77 per cent possession. And the third quarter was where they created that swing with a massive stack of phase after phase. The longer it went on, the harder it was to fathom how Aussie penalties conceded close to their line didn’t bring a card.
Australia looked to have finally conceded when Keith Earls – who had a fine game – had a try claim referred upstairs after he squeezed over in the corner. He was ruled to have lost the ball in the grounding. But Ireland went back to a penalty advantage and started again. More building work, and eventually man of the match Tadhg Furlong burst over to score.
Sexton’s conversion put Ireland 23-14 ahead with 26 minutes to play. With so many of the tourists on top of their game – Rob Kearney was excellent in cleaning up poor kicks from Beale – it was the tourists who had all the momentum.
The primary threat to that came from Pocock but Australia’s penalty count keep them out once they got into the last third of the field. By the time Sexton was nudging another one down the line, with 12 minutes left, Australia were on the wrong side of a 15-7 penalty scoreline.
That improved a bit in the final quarter and they put a tight squeeze on Ireland with that Tupoa try on the final straight, but they found their rhythm too late. It makes for an intriguing showdown on Saturday.
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 ht), 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 Carnery 77), P O’Mahony (capt) (T Beirne 64), CJ Stander, D Leavy (J McGrath 32-37; J Murphy ht)
Referee: P Williams (NZ)