Ireland finish a perfect season with a narrow 16-20 win over Australia.
It was tense until the finish, a TMO decision could have overturned the result, Stockdale’s arm may have glanced the ball. But awarding a penalty for a knock in would have been travesty.
Neither side were particularly fluid today, the Wallabies couldn’t get any continuity in their passing, and Ireland’s big ball carries became isolated — ripe grounds for Pocock and Hooper to poach a few balls.
Both sides performed well in defence, making it seem like a tight cage fight. The ferocity was intense. Some of the tackles in midfield would be knock out blows for most.
Tackles around chest height took out several Irish players, including Sexton, who took his time to retake his feet. It was exactly what you expect from a determined, Cheika coached Australian team.
I didn’t like the balance in the back row today; Stander is better at the base of the scrum and I think O’Mahony is a better number six. Presumably this change was brought about by the introduction of Jack Conan. All three had decent outings but were overshadowed today by the six-seven-eight wearing yellow.
A huge contrast to last week when the Irish had most of the territory, possession and O’Mahony won more turnovers at the ruck the his opponents. This week was much closer in all those statistics. Was O’Mahony’s early departure due to injury the difference?
Possibly. The rest of the team had to dig deep without their captain, probably the player of the tour if not the year.
A three game series is certainly unique. For Australia, their players need to quickly get back up to speed after not having played since November. They will have one eye on the Championship, especially on facing New Zealand next month.
The Irish are at the end of a long season. Injuries and management of players adds to the complexity of a tour on the far side of the world. Using all but one, Ross Byrne, of his travelling squad and still winning the series is testament to how well Joe and his back room team have managed the squad.
The most interesting element of these three game series is the tactical one that happens off pitch between games. Some of Australia’s advantages, most notable their strength in the air and their steals at the ruck, were reversed completely in the second game.
They managed to claw back the score in the ruck, but they were beaten soundly in most of the aerial battles, bar the restarts at which they were awful.
Bernard Foleys’s restarts have been impressive in all three games, giving his chasing team plenty of time to regain possession, and Ireland lost far too many of them. When Folau got sin binned for knocking Peter O’Mahony in the air, the ball had already been knocked on by the man in green. A lucky escape, thanks to the TMO, but soured by the injury to the Irish captain.
Earls, Kearney, and his substitute Larmour all won close battles in the air. The kick was used sparingly but accurately, with Conor Murray only using a small number of box kicks and placing them all far enough away for comfort but within reach of the chasing green shirts.
Australia’s scrum was better. That was clear enough. But as the game wore on the Irish seemed to manage it a little better. Perhaps there was a bit of willingness in the referee to let the game flow, to just get on with it rather than blowing the whistle.
I’m not the biggest fan of scrums. Nor do I like penalties being given for infractions in the scrum. But then again, to make it proper platform for attack it needs to be difficult to defend against, especially when the opposition is clearly showing superiority.
I think World Rugby needs to look at this ahead of the World Cup. Perhaps that’s the reason for having a mix of northern and southern hemisphere referees dealing with the tours this year, to get captain’s used to them and get the communication flowing freely.
Furlong was immense again this week, although he did not get his hands on the ball quite so much. His fellow front-rowers, McGrath and Scanell had solid games. They’ll work on the scrum and we have Rory Best’s return to look forward to.
It was great to see Bundee Aki back to his best. I thought he was just a little beneath his usual high standards in the first game. But today he made some gut busting tackles, as did Henshaw, and together they left no gaps through the middle.
Stockdale looked exciting with ball in hand. He was a little unlucky with the yellow card, you felt that he was simply regaining a little balance after grabbing a ball that had bounced around like a basketball. It was the correct decision. A slight worry is that his play in defence has some gaps.
When Larmour came on for the injured Rob Kearney, he made some excellent runs. He has a keen rugby brain in both attack and defence. I’m already looking forward to next season to see more of him in both blue and green.
The lads can celebrate tonight. Job done. But not a time to rest on laurels. There’s a November series to look forward to and a Six Nations defence (France and England at home, hee hee!) and a world cup to look forward to next season.