Ireland 20-16 Australia
For the first time since 1979 and the first time in the professional era, Ireland have completed a Series win in the Southern Hemisphere after beating Australia 20-16 in the third Test in Sydney to win the Series 2-1.
Although the win wasn’t perfect, It was the ideal way to end a terrific year where a Grand Slam was secured with a 24-17 win against England in Twickenham. This win like the win in the 2nd Test was built on solid defence and a real willingness to work hard in attack. The loss of Gary Ringrose looked to have had an impact although the partnership of Henshaw and Aki looked far more secure today than it did in the first Test.
Ireland dominated possession in the first half and did well to take a few of the chances that were presented and led 12-9 at half time after Jonathan Sexton kicked 4 penalties while Conor Murray left a long range effort behind him. Australia started with real purpose and used the axis of Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley to put the likes of Folau and Beale into space.
Also early on the Aussie’s looked far more composed at the break down where the duo of Hooper and Pocock did there level best to slow Irish ball down and set Australia off on many attacks. The loss of Hooper early in the first half had an effect on the effectiveness of the Aussie break down work and although Pocock continued to try and pilfer ball he wasn’t having it all his own way owing to some real tigerish work from Peter O Mahony who has grown into a real leader on this tour.
The loss of Sean Cronin wasn’t has keenly felt as it may have been because Niall Scannell did his homework and did well in the set piece and also in defence where Ireland did not shoot up as much as they had done in game one. Yes there was moments where they got caught wide and had to depend on some top notch scramble defence to get them out of jail on more than one occasion.
The one thing that Joe Schmidt wanted to do in the aftermath of the last World Cup was work on player depth and he certainly had to do that in the back row with injuries to the likes of Josh Van Der Flier , Rhys Ruddock , Sean O Brien and Jack O Donoghue. Men like Tadgh Beirne , Iain Henderson , Jordi Murphy and Jack Conan made the most of their game time on this tour. They all had a positive impact when called upon and all played a part in this huge Series win.
This win will show Joe Schmidt that he can call upon these players at any time and they will step up to the mark. The importance of both Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton to this quest for World domination can’t be underplayed. Sexton put his body on the line numerous times in particular during the 2nd half when Australia dominated territory and possession. He kicked the vital three points to see Ireland home at the end but not before driving Ireland around the field in the third Test.
The set piece worked well at times in this Series and will need to be looked after when they reconvene in September. John Forgarty might be brought in while Greg Feek is away in Japan to help out but that is a issue for next season.
Looking to next year, It will be tough to maintain all these high standards that Schmidt and his men set this season winning the Grand Slam, going to Australia and winning a Series going unbeaten in November and also winning in Japan and USA while all the established players were away with the Lions last summer where Schmidt got the opportunity to cap James Ryan and Jacob Stockdale to name two new corner stone’s of this squad. Now we see why Schmidt declined to tour with the Lions last summer.
Now they can relax for the summer and enjoy some well earned time off and bask in the glory of the greatest ever year in Irish rugby history but they will know they are greater challenges ahead in season 2018/2019. For now though, soak it in and enjoy all the plaudits because these results don’t come around that often in Irish rugby.
Well done to all the players, coaches and support staff for a memorable end to a remarkable season…
Cian Mc Gibney