Murray Kinsella reports from Sydney
IT WAS TADHG Furlong’s try-scoring, line-breaking efforts that impressed most people watching Ireland’s win over the Wallabies in Melbourne.
Team-mates tend to appreciate the less glamorous stuff, though, and it was no different yesterday for Ireland fullback Rob Kearney.
Asked about Furlong’s impact in a man-of-the-match performance, Kearney picked out one part of the New Ross man’s ruck work as the standout moment.
“He’s changing the role of tighthead props across the world,” said Kearney.
“There was one cleanout on [David] Pocock in the second half that was the greatest cleanout I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few cleanouts in my time.”
Furlong’s vicious clearout on the Wallabies flanker illustrates what was a vastly better display from Joe Schmidt’s men at ruck time in Melbourne, helping them towards a victory that ensures the series will be decided in Sydney next weekend.
Furlong’s excellence around the pitch was matched at scrum time, where Ireland also delivered a much-improved showing in their 26-21 victory.
“The set-piece was much stronger for us and it’s a big impetus into the game,” said Kearney.
“If you’re coming off second best at set-piece, like that scrum penalty last week, it just gave them such massive impetus into the game and it was probably a little bit of a turning point last week. So particularly the scrum was much stronger this week.”
Kearney picked out Ireland’s aerial game as another key area of improvement in the second Test against the Wallabies, having felt how it “hurts when one of your perceived strengths gets beaten.”
With the likes of Furlong, Johnny Sexton and Garry Ringrose making their presence felt on their returns to the starting team, Ireland earned a first victory against the Wallabies on Australian soil since 1979.
Though Joe Schmidt stressed post-match that the real achievement is still up for grabs, Kearney said the players in Ireland’s squad appreciate that bridging the 39-year gap is an achievement in its own right.
But any happiness will quickly fade if Ireland don’t finish a superb season in winning fashion at Allianz Stadium next weekend.
“I think it does feel like an incredible achievement,” said Kearney. “There are so many guys coming into the squad now who are part of this new breed who just expect to win a little bit, but we understand how difficult it is to win down there.
“But this team has some pretty high expectations of ourselves and the way we want to go on and achieve. We’re certainly not surprised to be going into the series decider in the final week.
“We’re into a final now. The good thing for this group is that it’s the last game of the season, so there is literally no holding back for anything. We can give every ounce of energy we have.
“Not that we don’t do that anyway, but there’s something about the last game of the season where it’s just all guns blazing, you throw everything into it to win.”
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