Ireland beat Australia 15-6 in World Cup heart-stopper
IRELAND defied all expectations by summoning a performance of controlled ferocity to stun Australia and place one foot in the World Cup quarter-finals in Auckland today.
The Irish stormed to the summit of Pool C by winning the group's pivotal match against the Tri Nations champions and tournament second favourites at Eden Park.
Jonathan Sexton kicked two penalties and a drop goal while Ronan O'Gara weighed in with six points in Ireland's finest World Cup display.
After the game captain Brian O’Driscoll said: “It was the performance we knew we had in us.”
He said it felt like 57,000 of the 58,000 crowd were behind Ireland and it was more like playing in Dublin, rather than New Zealand.
“We’ve had two wins and we have to more to get. Let’s not lose sight of that,” he said.
Over 10,000 people watched the match on a big screen at the 02 in Dublin and celebrations there and on the far side of the world began in earnest on the full time whistle.
The defeat is a double setback for Australia as they sought to tighten their grip on Pool C of the World Cup with victory at Eden Park.
First influential openside David Pocock was replaced by Ben McCalman after incurring a back injury and then hooker Stephen Moore was withdrawn for an unspecified reason.
Rob Kearney, Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy returned to Ireland's starting line-up following injury lay-offs, while Eoin Reddan was restored at scrum-half ahead of Conor Murray.
Roared on by their strong travelling support, Ireland made a fiery start with O'Brien mixing it with the Australian forwards as the packs squared off.
They attacked the breakdown with vigour as they swept into the Wallaby half only for Jamie Heaslip to lose the ball in the tackle.
A clothes line challenge from Kearney on Kurtley Beale gave James O'Connor an early shot at goal but he sent his kick wide.
The Wallabies began to make inroads around the breakdown with a robust tackle from O'Brien stopping Will Genia in the nick of time.
O'Connor was more successful with his second shot at goal after Ireland's scrum had collapsed five metres out, a worrying sign given this was thought to be an area of Irish superiority.
The disappointment of Sexton sending a penalty wide was soon forgotten as Rory Best produced a cute offload to O'Driscoll who burst into space.
Ireland's captain was soon brought down but his side had won a penalty and this time Sexton was on target.
The score sparked a superb spell from Ireland with Paul O'Connell, Rob Kearney and Keith Earls making inroads before Sexton landed a drop goal to nudge his side 6-3 ahead.
HT: Ireland 6 Australia 6
Two successive penalties were conceded at the breakdown but O'Connor, who was taking an eternity to complete his kicks, was off target.
The pauses in between action were lengthy in the third quarter, but when the ball was in play Ireland were enjoying the better moments.
A second missed penalty from Sexton did not help the cause, however, and nor did blundering referee Bryce Lawrence who first got in Reddan's way as he tried to distribute the ball and then failed to penalise James Horwill for being offside.
Australia were under pressure and Stephen Ferris produced the moment of the half when he picked up Genia at the base of a scrum and carried him 10 metres with the Irish pack piling in behind him.
Ireland produced an encouraging first half in their pivotal World Cup Pool C clash with Australia at Eden Park.
A penalty and drop-goal from Jonathan Sexton saw them enter the break on level terms, but they had edged the Wallabies over the 40 minutes.
Australia's points came from the boot of James O'Connor, who opened the scoring with a 10th-minute penalty and then got the Wallabies back on level terms with another penalty in the 23rd minute.
Australia's backs served Ireland with a timely reminder of their potency when Cooper, Beale and Adam Ashley-Cooper created an opening out of nothing down the left wing.
Ferris and O'Brien went on the rampage to put the Irish back on the front foot, however, as the match continued to be balanced on a knife edge.
The two back rows were prominent once more as Ireland drove deep into Australia's half, winning a penalty which Sexton sent between the uprights.
Gordon D'Arcy limped off in the 49th minute, so on came Ronan O'Gara at fly-half with Sexton moving to inside centre.
The Wallabies' situation deteriorated when their scrum buckled once more, but Sexton's penalty cruelly hit the right upright and then bounced over the head of O'Driscoll.
Cooper almost wriggled free 10 metres out from the line but Australia were spending precious little time in Ireland's half.
FT: Ireland 15 Australia 6
It was becoming all too easy as Australia's scrum collapsed once more and O'Gara, who had taken over the kicking duties, made no mistake.
The Wallabies' weakness at the set-piece was hindering them and Ireland struck once more, O'Gara landing his second penalty.
Australia attempted one last throw of the dice but the livewire Genia was denied by a try-saving tackle from O'Brien.
Ireland had the final say, however, when Bowe intercepted and ran nearly the length of the pitch only to be caught just short of the line.
Lawrence called offside after Conor Murray had scampered over but the game was already over and the Irish were able to celebrate a famous victory.