The two test so far have been bruising affairs with the highlights being some brave defending. Inconsistent refereeing in both games is a worry, but Australia’s poor discipline costs them the second game.
The return of players like Johnny Sexton and Dan Leavy to the starting line up made this game feel more like a cup match than the end of season experimentation that was the opening game.
I think Joe Schmidt had done well to get some of the more inexperienced players into the action. Joey Carberry had a solid performance in the first test, as did Rob Herring.
That they were leading up to the seventieth minute, with a team that was under-performing was remarkable. Many of the players looked as if they had only stepped off the long distance aeroplane that morning.
Yesterday’s game was more like the performances we saw during the Six Nations. Yes there were mistakes, but much fewer of them, and the Irish reactions to the mistakes were crisper and more effective.
The most worrying thing about the game, especially the first half, was that despite an unprecedented amount of possession and territory, Ireland were not able to convert this control of the pitch into control over the scoreboard.
Taking a two point lead into half time when you’ve been camped in the opponent’s back yard is not good return on investment. I was worried.
Conway’s try in the corner was marred by an awful tackle from the desperate Aussie defence, having lost Koroibete to the sin bin. Sexton’s kick was a beauty to convert.
Australia’s repeat infringements were ridiculous yesterday, often simple stupidity, such as tackling a player without the ball. This same offence had cost them a try in the first test, since the TMO spotted it and brought play back.
In the end the penalty count was 15-12. The penalties the Irish gave away, as a contrast, seemed to have had more purpose, if that’s possible. Although it would have been better for Healy not to have sacked the Australian maul which was cruising over the try line. Jack McGrath’s hand in the ruck was even more stupid. Both players deserved the sin bin.
It just felt that Australia handed Ireland a get out of jail card too often again this week. However, the difference in the second test was that we were able to build and hold onto a lead.
It was great to see Tadhg Furlong back to his best. He seemed under powered last week but made up for it with power packed performance. His carries all made ground and he made a number of critical tackles.
James Ryan got a blip on his record last week; his first professional loss. But he lead from the front yesterday with some great carries and all round
The Irish win sets up and interesting tie-breaker next Saturday. I feel that we have not fully utilised enough players on the tour. Seeing Beirne get on the pitch was good but there are a few more of the fringe that I’d like to see. play.
Given that Ireland has no won a series on Aussie soil since 1979, you can imagine that Joe and Co want to correct this statistic. It would round off an excellent season. So I think we’ll see few or no changes before next week, barring injuries.
Injury will be a concern for Conway and Leavy but there are plenty of replacements.
The referees performance should come under scrutiny. There were too many inconsistencies in the decision making yesterday. For example, a deliberate knock on should warrant a yellow card. This is a black and white decision. The referee gave Ireland a penalty, describe the offence as a deliberate knock on but gave no yellow card.
Later, and for the same offence, Jack McGrath was sent to the sin bin. Admittedly his culpability was worse, lying off his feet in a ruck as he was. The angle the TMO found to show his guilt, showing his face through the scrum halves legs was undeniable - caught red handed. However, the rules state that the punishment is the same no matter the degree of the offence.
Irish supporters should be pleased with the win. If we try a few experiments next week in the decider and they don’t work out, will I be upset? No. I think now, in this series, is the time to make mistakes, to find out if some of the fringe players have what it takes.
If they don’t get and take their chances now, then you can be sure that there are a dozen more academy players just waiting to take theirs.
Our nation’s rugby ambition should be to win the world cup. Every decision at club, province and national level should be geared to forward that goal. We’ve blooded a few players, not as many as I would have liked, but a few. Next week is the last real chance to try some more before we get back into home internationals (that of course we cannot think of losing) or the Six Nations (and we have to defend the title don’t we).
By last chance I mean games that if we lose we won’t worry too much about it. All roads lead to the world cup. At the moment we are rightly ahead in the pecking order than Australia. We have a better first team and a wider squad.
Losing this series to them will not change that. But if we can get additional experience into the second string then it makes it harder to distinguish said second string from the first. That’s where we want to be when we arrive in Japan.