Ireland conclude their international calendar fixtures with a compelling 27-24 win over an Australian side who were their own worse enemy. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the test match.
Ireland Squad Depth
A key failure of Joe Schmidt and Ireland management during last year’s Rugby World Cup was that management did not have the squad to cover injuries to several positions. Arguments aplenty on why this was the case but yesterday, Ireland were faced with a similar predicament. Sean O’Brien late injury withdrawal compiled with the early withdrawals of Rob Kearney (15), Andrew Trimble (14) and Jared Payne (13) meant that Ireland had a makeshift back line for the second half where inexperienced Kieran Marmion and Joey Carbery were thrust into unfamiliar positions. Australia did enjoy success on the flanks in that second period; Ireland gamely fought to the bitter end, tried to retain their defensive structure as much as they could to secure the victory.
The players who were summoned for duty off the bench made immediate impacts. Marmion’s hit on Pocock, Dillane’s ball carries and tackle count. O’Mahoney’s unbelievable breakdown steal at the death. Bealham at scrum time. It was a superb effort from an Ireland side who in past years would have struggled to compete with SH sides of the caliber of Australia given the absence of several marquee players. Schmidt and management will have plenty of food for thought selecting a 6N squad on the back of the performances yesterday where every player stood up and delivered a performance.
Game of two halves
A pulsating game where both sides enjoyed long periods of dominance. Ireland should have being more than ten points up at the interval. Ireland’s front five were dominating in scrum and making numerous notable game line gains. The half-backs were complementing each other perfectly. Murray continues to excel and has to be a front runner for the Lions number nine shirt. His defensive nous, coupled with a big boot and ability to launch his runners at the precise right time has being hallmarks of this superb Autumn International series for Ireland. Even with the fluctation in personnel outside of the Munster number nince, Murray has led superbly and allowed his fly-half option the time and space to make the right game management decision.
Jackson yesterday showed everyone that with extended game time at ten, the Ulster man is the answer to the ten position. Sexton’s injury and concussion problems necessitate that Schmidt needs a viable alternative at ten. Jackson provided the attacking lines and kicking required in a superb test match. His penalty kicking which has at times being maligned was on point; his last conversion was sensational; showed massive leadership to slot the conversion over from the sideline. It provided Ireland with a massive boost heading into the last ten minutes of the contest. Ireland’s territorial dominance should have yielded more points, perhaps attacking refinement is required by Schmidt and management next year.
Australia will rue lost opportunities during this contest. It was a fixture which the Wallabies should have won based on their second half performance. They revel in open space and Foley, Folau were immense in identifying defensive mismatches in an Ireland back three whose inexperience at times was ruthlessly exposed. The first twenty minutes of the second half was how Australia should have started this contest; their pack aroused from their slumber making several eye-catching carries. Quick ruck ball allowed the visitors to strike with two well worked second half tries but they were undermined by constant penalty concessions. The front five unable to stem Ireland in the pack open exchanges with Garces making the judgement call that Australia were second best at scrum time and infringing in the rucks. Chieka will have grievances but some of the offside decisions were on point. Australia have massive potential but their pack needs to be more abrasive particularly when oppositions front fives are well organized and drilled.
On a day where England winger Eliot Daly was given his marching orders for taking an Argentinian player out in the air, World Rugby hoped that would set the example for more consistent officiating yesterday. They were sadly mistaken as match official Garces failed to issue a red card for a serious tip tackle offense by Australian back row Dean Mumm on Tadhg Furlong. What makes the decision to brandish a yellow card more baffling is that the French referee had no hesitation to issue a red card to Keith Earls in a recent European Cup match against Glasgow. It was the same offense but officiated differently. This is what is driving both fans and rugby coaches potty.
World Rugby needs to provide direction on this type of offense; Bernard Foley somehow tip tackled Devin Toner late in the contest, another yellow card brandished which on another day would be a red. Ireland have being on the end of a couple of awful decisions in recent weeks, luckily the players involved will make a full recovery but it only requires an international player fatality to take place for action to happen. A worrying trend. Does World Rugby and match officials care for players welfare? It is a mixed message during this Autumn International series.
Rory Best – Centurion
The Banbridge native has being immense in his Ireland career. A superb servant to the Ireland side throughout the years. He took on the unenviable mantle of succeeding Paul O’Connell but the Ulster hooker has provided assured leadership. His lineout and scrummaging this season has being on point and Best is surely going on the plane with the Lions tour next summer. The scenes after the contest stood out; Best with his family, cherishing the moments post game with them and taking the time to pose for photos with other families at pitch-side. His interview with Damien O’Meara before the international spoke volumes; if you have not listened to it, would recommend listening to it. His desire to do well for club, then province and now country was loud and clear. Class act and his centurion number of caps is well merited. Congratulations Rory!