A 54th minute try from Tadhg Furlong sends a dominant Irish side to Sydney with a chance of snatching the series after a first Test loss. The 5 point victory was a first on Australian soil since 1979 and a much needed performance from Joe Schmidt’s side.
There was a noticeable increase in the physicality that the Irish brought to Melbourne with captain Peter O’Mahony leading from the front. Despite Australia going 7-0 up after just 2 minutes, Ireland looked comfortable for the most part in defence and dangerous in attack. An easy 5 pointer for Kurtley Beale after a nice switch with Foley, left Ireland chasing the game early. However, a yellow card for Koroibete after a needless tip tackle on Kearney opened the door for Ireland, which they used clinically. A beautifully floated pass from Murray put Conway away in the corner, Sexton converted, 7-7 after 13′.
From there, Ireland didn’t take a backward step. Peter O’Mahony leading the charge both in defence and at the breakdown, winning 3 turnovers, 2 of which Johnny Sexton duly converted into 3 points on the scoreboard. O’Mahony even got his off-loading game going in the second half. If Ireland weren’t tormenting the Aussies at the breakdown, their line-speed an unrelenting physicality caused the Wallabies to cough up knock-on turnovers. Every phase they retained had produced purpose and substance, knocking the Wallabies backwards and draining their energy with every carry.
It would be impossible to talk about physicality and not mention Tadhg Furlong. The Wexford man battered everything and anything that moved in front of him. A lovely backward flick from Murray allowed Furlong to surge through the tackle of Nick Phipps, gifted the ‘Jukebox’ his first international try. The prop had a tally of 75 meters made at the final whistle, beat 6 defenders and had 2 clean breaks. Not to mention his passing game which linked the forward and backs play brilliantly. A truly titanic performance.
Coming into the second Test, winning the aerial game was a must for the Irish. Having been outclassed and exploited by Israel Folau repeatedly last weekend, the backs had to produce and that they did. Kearney, brushed last week’s error ridden performance aside and dominated the air, as did Keith Earls, who was very sharp in both attack and defence. Folau didn’t win a single kick in the game, as Ireland managed to shut down his aerial threat brilliantly. Sexton and Murray teased the Australians with their kicking game, both managing to get incredible hang-time on each kick allowing for Larmour, Earls and Kearney to contest and disrupt with ease. Despite the best efforts of Folau, the Wallabies did not get the same return from the Beale and Foley kicks as they would have hoped and with this found it difficult to get behind the Irish defence and cause them issues.
Australia were on the wrong end of the penalty count, conceding 15 in total, something which Michael Cheika alluded to in his post match interview. While Ireland only conceded 3 less, the nature of the Australian penalties were cynical. However, they only received one yellow card contrary to two that the Irish received. There can be no complaints about the either cards that both Healy and McGrath conceded, but questions have to be asked about the consistency of the referee. Healy was binned after illegally sacking the maul after the referee decided and fairly so, that it was worthy of a penalty try. However, with repeated offences on their own line, before Furlong eventually powered over, no card was produced for the Australians, nor was one produced for a couple of deliberate knock ons. Williams had a very good game around the pitch, but lacked the ability, at times, to sanction cynical play with more force.
No doubt, a penalty count of 12 is something which Schmidt and Ireland will have to work on ahead of next weekends series decider. Ireland pride themselves on good discipline , forcing their opposition to work for every yard, not giving them easy outs. They will be annoyed at some of the penalties conceded, offside from a defensive scrum, going off their feet at the breakdown, simple things that let Australia off the hook.
It is 1-1 heading into Sydney, with Ireland possibly having the advantage and momentum but the Wallabies are a side littered with quality and will want this series win desperately. Given the incredible support Ireland received in Melbourne, no doubt the Irish exiles will be out in force to get Ireland over the line and seal a first series will in Australia since 1979. Ireland were in a similar position in 2016, 1-1 ahead of the final test in South Africa but went on to lose the series. This team are in different place 2 years later, and will be eager to finish the season on a high. It’s poised to be a monumental battle.
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