Ireland denied Australia their second win of the Autumn Internationals through a late Brian O’Driscoll try, reports Killian Woods.Ireland opened up their autumn international series with a well deserved draw over an under-strength Australia side at Croke Park on Sunday afternoon. In their first international fixture for six months, Ireland battled to the end and overcame any negative preconceptions about the fitness and experience of their front-row forwards.
Ireland made a terrible start to the match when a bad pass in the Irish twenty-two, by Ronan O’Gara, saw O’Driscoll reaching too far ahead of himself for the ball. Ireland’s captain failed to clutch the ball and Australian winger Drew Mitchell pounced on the opportunity to gather possession and go racing for the line to score the opening try of the afternoon. Australian fly-half, Matt Giteau added the conversion to give the visitor maximum points.
Ireland showed resilience straight after conceding the try and managed to put their first points on the board through a Ronan O’Gara penalty. However, Australia nearly extended their lead soon after, but Matt Giteau’s drop kick was blocked by Cian Healy.
With Irish players working the ball through the hands, winger Luke Fitzgerald found himself one on one on the left wing and put a deft chip over the head of Australian winger Peter Hynes. The defender gathered the ball, but good support from Robert Kearney won Ireland a line-out in Australia’s 22. From the resulting play, Ireland took the ball up near the Australian post’s and won a penalty which was cooly slotted over by O’Gara to bring the score to 7-6.
Unfortunately, Matt Giteau extended Australia’s lead again with another penalty. From the kick off, Australia retain possession and their captain Rocky found a gap to go powering down the pitch in what was a firm reminder to Leinster fans of the player of
last season. Luckily he was taken down and from the next phase Giteau was turned over dangerously close to the Irish line.
After a spell of play in the midfield, Australian forward Wycliff Palu was given a yellow card for a high tackle on Kearney. Soon after, there was a huge sigh of disappointment around the ground as winger Tommy Bowe nearly latched onto a chip from Ronan O’Gara into the corner, but the ball just brushed the palms of his hands.
Ireland grew in confidence as the game went on. Good plays off set pieces saw Fitzgerald get a handful of chances to run at his opposite winger one on one. Australia ended the half stronger and tried to mount an attack just before the break. However, numerous handling errors and Irelands failure to capitalize from theses errors meant the referee called for half time.
Australia started the second half the stronger of the two sides. Uncharacteristically, Giteau missed a very kickable penalty just to the left on the uprights. Australia continued their tactic of feeding the ball to their centres Digby Ioane and Quade Cooper, then using them to crash the ball into the Irish defence.
Australia patiently worked the ball from wing to wing and eventually opened up gaps through an offload from Palu which, sent Cooper racing down the wing. However, a good covering tackle from debutant Healy bundled him into touch.
Australia were bossing the scrum and this allowed Australia to further extend their lead. After testing the referee’s patience, he eventually penalised Ireland and gave Australia a penalty just inside the Irish twenty-two. Giteau made made no mistakes this time as cooly slotted over the penalty to bring the score to 13-6.
Ireland piled on the pressure from the next kick off and won possession and Healy was fed the ball to go crashing towards the try line. Constant pick and drive and patient play finally drew the Australian defence, allowing O’Leary to skip pass the ball for Bowe who touched down try. O’Gara followed up with the conversion to make the score 13-13.
Regrettably, Australia bounced straight back within five minutes of Ireland’s try. Their captain Rocky Elsom came back to haunt the Irish fans. Unsupported, he powerfully ran towards the line and fended off tackles from Irish player to touch down with ease.
Entering the last fifteen minutes and Australia have Ireland stuck in their own half. Numerous penalties give Ireland a chance to gain territory and camp themselves in visitor’s twenty-two.
Good offloads and and quick recycling has Ireland entrenched deep in Australian half.
Constant mauling off their line-out’s push Ireland towards the line. After another line-out and maul, O’Gara passes the ball out to Bowe who crashed over the line. However, the video referee judges that he was held-up by Australian defenders and gives a scrum.
This was Ireland’s last chance of the game to force a draw. Off the scrum O’Leary skips the first two men and the ball goes straight to Brian O’Driscoll who has picked his line through a gap in the Australian defence. It was an easy finish for the Irish captain as he put the ball down between the posts for a try. O’Gara powered home the conversion to finish the match 20-20
After the game Australian coach Robbie Deans felt that “Ireland escaped with a draw”. Though, the Wallabies coach was under no illusions about his opponents and acknowledged that they were their toughest opponents of the series so far.
“Ireland were a step up from England. We probably stepped up our performance but we went a bit conservative and narrow, and turned over a bit of ball which cost us”
Deans’ views were shared by Irish coach Kidney to a degree. “I suppose we were behind and got the draw just at the end. So I suppose we escaped”.
He continued “Draws in rugby are a strange sort of event, two minutes before the end of the game we would have taken a draw obviously. But the one thing you can’t coach is attitude and I though we showed that in bucket-loads.”