Ireland end brilliant November series with nerve-wracking win over Wallabies

Joe Schmidt’s men were decimated by injuries once again.

Ireland 27

Australia 24

Murray Kinsella reports from the Aviva Stadium

IRELAND FINISHED THEIR November series in thrilling fashion as they survived damaging injuries to their backline to cling on for a 27-24 win over Australia.

Keith Earls celebrates scoring a try with Simon Zebo Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The toll of last weekend’s bruising defeat to the All Blacks was clear as Ireland faded in the second half, having led 17-0 coming towards half time.

But Keith Earls popped up wide on the left wing to finish a brilliant passage of Ireland attack and ensure Joe Schmidt’s side end November with three wins from four games.

Rob Kearney was lost to another head injury just 11 minutes in, while Andrew Trimble was forced off after half an hour, then Jared Payne at half time. Ireland’s backline had Kieran Marmion on the right wing for the entire last 40, while Earls ended up at outside centre and Joey Carbery played 50 minutes at fullback on his third cap.

Those concerns came on top of the loss of Sean O’Brien before the game had even started, with Josh van der Flier coming into the starting team and Peter O’Mahony promoted onto the bench.

Ireland were also missing Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw, their first-choice 10 and 12, but they somehow found answers to eke out victory.

They had a dominant first-half performance and their 17-7 lead at the break didn’t do it justice. The Wallabies’ attack was scintillating in the second half, leading to tries for Tevita Kuridrani and Sefanaia Naivalu – adding to Dane Haylett-Petty’s first-half effort.

But Schmidt’s men showed serious character to survive and then bounce back for Earls’ winning try.

Simon Zebo celebrates with try scorer Iain Henderson Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Garry Ringrose was a revelation at inside centre, while Marmion muscled up impressively out of position on the right wing as the Wallabies looked to exploit his presence there.

Man of the match van der Flier was as impactful as he has been throughout this month’s Test action. Tadhg Furlong was superb again at tighthead, but really this was about the collective ballsiness of Ireland in adversity.

Schmidt’s decision to start Kearney and Payne could have cost his team dearly as they both proved unable to complete the game, though their replacements were more than capable – even when out of position.

Captain Rory Best had a proud evening in green as he won his 100th cap, receiving a standing ovation as he made way for Sean Cronin late on. This win means Best has captained Ireland to wins over Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in the same calendar year.

CJ Stander’s carrying contributed to a strong opening few minutes from Ireland, although there were echoes of last weekend’s loss to the All Blacks in the wasted opportunites from close range.

The intent from Ireland was excellent, with lots of width in their attacking phase play, but they were twice turned over within five metres of the Wallabies’ tryline, once by Dean Mumm picking off a lineout and the other through getting held up in the maul.

CJ Stander tackled by Will Genia Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland lost fullback Kearney early to a head injury – his second in two games. Worryingly, the Leinster man initially appeared to refuse to go off for his HIA, before the match officials insisted on his removal in the next break in play.

Simon Zebo came on at fullback and added energy, helping Ireland to earn a penalty that they finally kicked at goal to lead 3-0 after 18 minutes.

A yellow card arrived for back row Mumm five minutes later and he was lucky not to be sent off permanently as he lifted Furlong’s leg above the horizontal in a ruck and tipped the tighthead down onto his neck.

Lock Rob Simmons was also perhaps lucky not to be punished by Jérôme Garcès for his involvement, but Ireland delivered a seven-point punishment within a minute.

Another big carry from Stander in midfield got Ireland moving forward, before Zebo cleverly rolled a delicate grubber kick in behind the Wallabies out on the left. The ball bounced up perfectly for Keith Earls and he was able to offload back inside to the supporting Iain Henderson for a beautiful try, converted by Jackson.

Payne and Stander combined for a choke tackle turnover, as Ireland began to become dominant. They did, however, lose Trimble to an apparent ankle injury with 30 minutes played, meaning Carbery came on for his third cap at fullback.

A scrum penalty on halfway was followed by a maul penalty, which Ireland sent into the corner, and from a loose pass off the second maul attack, Ringrose struck for a delightful try.

Garry Ringrose scores a try Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

He scooped the ball off the ground on the move, arced around the poor tackle attempt of Rory Arnold and in towards the posts. There were shades of Brian O’Driscoll’s famous try in Paris in 2000, as Ringrose once again showed his class.

Garcès and his TMO were happy that there was no blocking by Devin Toner to allow Ringrose to score, and Jackson converted for 17-0.

Ireland almost got to the break with that lead intact, but a poor kick straight into touch by Jackson after Zebo and Carbery had broken out of the Ireland 22 provided the Wallabies with the kind of set-piece platform they thrive on.

Michael Hooper made the initial thrust through Ireland’s midfield defence, before finding Israel Folau once in behind. The dynamic fullback’s pass on inside to Dane Haylett-Petty appeared to be marginally forward but, again, Garcès and his team of officials were happy.

Bernard Foley converted for a 17-7 half-time scoreline.

With Payne going off injured during the interval, Ireland’s backline was further disrupted by the introduction of scrum-half Marmion on the right wing, with Earls shifting to outside centre.

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Immediately, the Wallabies sniffed blood. Two minutes into the half, Ireland just survived as the otherwise excellent David Pocock passed forward to Henry Speight in the left corner, but they flooded back on the attack as their 1-3-3-1 shape caused havoc.

Their width allowed Tervita Kuridrani to cross in the left corner with 45 minutes played, Foley, Haylett-Petty and Folau shifting on simple passes to free the outside centre, and Foley then converted to bring the Wallabies ominously back to 17-14.

Tevita Kuridrani scores his sides second try Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Earls did superbly on the restart to get a hand to the ball and Ireland drew a penalty for the Wallabies not rolling away, allowing Jackson to ease a little of the pressure with three points.

But Chieka’s side were in the mood now against a disorganised Ireland defence. Folau butchered a two-man overlap with half an hour left, but after Zebo kicked the ball into touch on the full, the Wallabies again stretched Ireland.

Finally, they broke wide on Ireland’s left as Foley’s screen pass found Sefanaia Naivalu – only just on the pitch for Speight – in space and he burned clear from 15 metres out.

Foley’s conversion meant Australia led for the first time in the game. A penalty from the out-half with 20 minutes remaining extended that advantage out to 24-20 and it looked like an uphill battle for Ireland.

But battle they did. A huge hit from Zebo as the Wallabies attempted to go wide in their own 22 launched a period of Irish pressure that eventually ended with Earls crossing in the left corner.

Replacements Peter O’Mahony and Ultan Dillane carried powerfully as Ireland finally got their hands back on the ball, with their gainline impact narrowing the Wallabies’ defence until Zebo wonderfully fired a pass wide left for Earls to cross.

Jackson’s brilliant touchline conversion sent Ireland 27-24 to the good as the atmosphere crackled in the Aviva Stadium.

Ireland were forced to dig deep in the closing 15 minutes as the Wallabies threw everything at them and continued to stretch the Irish defence. But Schmidt’s men underlined their character to seal the deal on a brilliant November.

Ireland scorers:

Tries: Iain Henderson, Garry Ringrose, Keith Earls

Conversions: Paddy Jackson [3 from 3]

Penalties: Paddy Jackson [2 from 2]

Australia scorers:

Tries: Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Sefanaia Naivalu

Conversions: Bernard Foley [3 from 3]

Penalties: Bernard Foley [1 from 1]

IRELAND: Rob Kearney (Simon Zebo ’11); Andrew Trimble (Joey Carbery ’30), Jared Payne (Kieran Marmion ’40), Garry Ringrose, Keith Earls; Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’60), Rory Best (captain) (Sean Cronin ’76), Tadhg Furlong (Finlay Bealham ’71); Iain Henderson (Ultan Dillane ’56), Devin Toner; CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Jamie Heaslip (Peter O’Mahony ’60).

AUSTRALIA: Israel Folau; Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Reece Hodge (Quade Cooper ’80, Henry Speight (HIA – Sefanaia Naivalu ’56); Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Scott Sio (James Slipper ’68), Stephen Moore (captain) (Tolu Latu ’76), Sekope Kepu (Allan Alaalatoa ’68); Rory Arnold (Kane Douglas ’40), Rob Simmons; Dean Mumm (yellow card ’23 to ’33) (Sean McMahon), Michael Hooper, David Pocock.

Referee: Jérôme Garcès [FFR].

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Murray Kinsella

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