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Dublin: 17 °C Friday 20 September, 2019

Success Down Under: Remembering Ireland's first Series win in Australia since 1979

Despite losing the first Test, the Six Nations champions defeated the Wallabies 2-1 in June 2018.

Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony lift the Lansdowne Cup in Sydney.
Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony lift the Lansdowne Cup in Sydney.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

SOME MOMENTS DESERVE to be immortalised.

Volkswagen have come on board as partners of The42, which will see them sponsor all of our rugby coverage for the 2019 World Cup in Japan. 

Ahead of the tournament, ‘Onward’ — an eight-part series — will be looking back at the unforgettable days from Joe Schmidt’s time in charge as he aims to end his six-year spell on a high.

In this episode, Ciaran Kennedy tells the tale of Ireland’s 2018 Series win over Australia Down Under.  

In the space of a whirlwind few years, Joe Schmidt’s Ireland had been steadily setting new milestones as they enjoyed an unprecedented period of success.

Under the New Zealander’s stewardship, Ireland had secured back-to-back Six Nations titles, beaten the Springboks on South African soil for the very first time and defeated New Zealand for the first time ever.

Australia presented one of the few obstacles yet to be successfully scaled. When Ireland travelled Down Under in 2018, they had not enjoyed a win there since 1979, losing 10 consecutive games in Australia since.

It was an itch that Schmidt’s team were desperate to scratch. They made the journey as reigning Six Nations champions, clocking up a record breaking 12-game winning run along the way.

Schmidt assembled a 32-man squad for the trip, but was robbed of his captain, Rory Best, who remained at home with a hamstring injury. In his absence, Peter O’Mahony and Johnny Sexton shared the captaincy.

They were two of the more experienced heads in a team that was in transition. With one eye on the following year’s World Cup in Japan, Schmidt had begun the process of introducing some fresh faces into his squad, and for many of his panel the Series represented the first significant senior summer tour of their careers.

James Ryan, who had enjoyed a stunning year with Leinster, had just eight caps to his name. Dan Leavy and Jacob Stockdale had only been capped nine times. Andrew Conway had six caps, Bundee Aki and Jordan Larmour had three caps each.

The team that Schmidt fielded for the first Test had an experimental look to it. Joey Carbery started at fly-half ahead of Sexton, with the front row consisting of John Ryan, Rob Herring and Jack McGrath. The changes failed to work, and Ireland’s unbeaten run ended thanks a superb Australian effort, with the visitors seeing tries from CJ Stander and Kieran Marmion ruled out.

james-ryan-after-the-game James Ryan leaving the field after the first Test defeat. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Schmidt made eight changes to his team and brought his heavy-hitters back in for the second Test, with Sexton, Garry Ringrose, Leavy, Devin Toner, Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy among those to come into the side

Yet it took just one minute for Ireland to fall behind in Sydney, with Wallabies centre Kurtley Beale crossing. Ireland didn’t let the early setback derail them, and responded with a try of their own from Conway just over five minutes later.

Australia added a penalty try but three penalties from Sexton saw Ireland hold a 16-14 advantage at half-time.

They dominated possession following the restart and eventually extended their lead when Furlong powered over midway through the half, but a late try from Taniela Tupou ensured a nervous end to the game, but Ireland held on thanks to some stubborn defending, with Sexton kicking 16 points in total.

There were huge performances all over the field. Stephen Ferris claimed that Peter O’Mahony, who had been criticised following some below-par displays, had ‘out-Pococked (David) Pocock!’ after the Munster player forced three turnover penalties. The power of ball carriers Ryan and CJ Stander was also crucial to Ireland’s success.

“Last week they taught us a good few lessons, it has taken one of our best performances of the year to beat them,” said O’Mahony.

peter-omahony-makes-a-break Peter O'Mahony makes a break. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The result set up a winner-takes-all third Test in Sydney seven days later. The game was laced with drama and incident, and had echoes of Ireland’s 2015 Six Nations as Schmidt’s side were delayed by 30 minutes as their team bus got held up in traffic.

On the pitch, both teams lost their captains in a hugely physical opening period. Australia number 7 Michael Hooper was forced off with a hamstring problem with less than 20 minutes on the clock, while O’Mahony had to leave the field due to concussion after half an hour.

Tensions were quickly rising. As the mobile stretcher was being prepared for O’Mahony, vice-captain memorably Sexton lost his cool with referee Pascal Gaüzère. “I know you hate me, but you have to talk to me,” said the out-half. The Leinster men soon calmed and played a pivotal role for his team.

Foley and Sexton traded penalties and Ireland led 12-9 at the break. In the second half, Ireland finally broke through the Wallabies defence as Stander crossed for the game’s first try following a clinically executed lineout move.

Australia desperately tried to claw the lead back, and in a tense ending, Gaüzère had to consult with his TMO to judge whether Jacob Stockdale had knocked on a Bernard Foley offload at the death. Stockdale, and Ireland, came out on the right side of the decision to claim a thrilling victory, and win the Series 2-1.

It had been a mammoth performance from the visiting side. Jack Conan chipped in with 20 tackles, while Ryan continued to defy his relative lack of experience with another commanding display.

Equally pleasing for Schmidt was the contribution of some of his fringe players, including Munster’s Tadhg Beirne, who had recently returned to Ireland from Scarlets and made his international debut during the Series.

tadhg-beirne-celebrates-with-mother-brenda-father-gerry-and-sisters-jennifer-alannah-and-caoimhe Tadhg Beirne celebrates with his mother, father and sisters. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I think a heck of a lot of it tonight was about character. Maybe we should have got a little bit more out of that first half,” said Schmidt.

The Wallabies then came back and they came back in waves, but I think credit to Jordan Larmour, Jordi Murphy, Tadhg Beirne for coming into a real furnace and to come out on the other side. I hope that furnace helps them become the diamonds that we need.”

To come from behind and win the Series capped a remarkable few months across the board for Irish rugby, including a November clean sweep and a Grand Slam, along with Leinster’s superb double campaign.

With the 2019 World Cup a little over a year away, confidence was at an all-time high. Schmidt now had his team exactly where he wanted them.

Volkswagen have been proud sponsors of Irish Rugby since 2011, and they are also rugby partners of The42 during the 2019 World Cup. For more, visit volkswagen.ie/rugby  

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