An inspirational performance from a returning David Pocock has helped the Wallabies draw first blood against Ireland with a 18-9 victory that has crushed the world No.2 side's 12-game winning streak.
Michael Hooper’s men have ensured their 39-year unbeaten run on Australian soil against the Irish remained intact with a two tries to zero result that was finished off by a late five-pointer to Pocock in the 72nd minute.
Like he never left: David Pocock was immense for Australia in defence, 18 months since he played his last Test.
In front of 46,273 fans at a lively Suncorp Stadium, the Wallabies came from one point down to get their 2018 international campaign off to the best possible start in a low-scoring affair.
Pocock’s presence at the breakdown was unmistakable but so too was that of Ireland’s big men, particularly in attack. The highlight was a turnover from Pocock after 19 phases where the Wallabies looked gassed down their own end.
There was, however, major drama in the 61st minute when an Israel Folau try was disallowed because of alleged foul play, which prompted former Wallaby and Fox Sports commentator Phil Kearns to claim: “the referees have lost the plot”.
Adam Coleman was penalised for tackling Ireland second-rower James Ryan, who did not have the ball. Hooper argued the act had no bearing on the try but referee Marius van der Westhuizen replied by saying: “the reality is it’s foul play”.
The Wallabies had to regather and did so courtesy of their big men. They earned a rare scrum penalty, to the fist-pumping delight of Michael Cheika, which Bernard Foley kicked to put them ahead 11-9 with 11 minutes remaining.
Behind closed doors, the non-selection of Sexton and a number of other Ireland stars riled up the Wallabies and this lack of respect was reflected in a dogged Australian effort across the full 80 minutes.
Debutant hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa may have belted out the national anthem with spine-tingling passion but the Irish picked off a nervous first lineout throw. Narrative aside, it was time to play with the big boys. It wasn’t his best night, with a few errant throws not helping his cause.
There was a real physicality about the first 15 minutes. Hooper’s bone-rattler on rookie No.10 Joey Carbery’s put him in the hurt locker but he returned to his feet to solider on. With Sexton waiting on the bench, there was ample cover.
Both sides exchanged early penalties before Ireland winger Jacob Stockdale made a well-timed try-saving tackle on Marika Koroibete down the left edge. It came off the back of a slick line break from Beale and ultimately Koroibete ran an incorrect line with Dane Haylett-Petty in support on his outside.
After Ireland added a dubious three points in the 26th minute because Hooper was penalised at a breakdown, Coleman was deemed to have been in front of Foley at the next kick-off. Discipline comes in many forms and it is these basic tasks that need to be adhered to for success against decent teams.
With Ireland having 70 per cent territory at one stage, the Wallabies finally got their reward in the 34th minute with the first try of the evening. Foley was the beneficiary of a pass down the short side but Dane Haylett-Petty set up the points with a clever run.
Australia led 8-6 at the break in what was the second lowest aggregate of points in a Wallabies match since the All Blacks fixture in Sydney in 2015.
The home side’s tackling efficiency was also markedly better than last year. At half-time, Australia had made 95 per cent of their tackles and by full-time finished with 90 per cent compared to Ireland's 87.
In the 43rd minute there was a potentially game-changing moment. Ireland No.8 CJ Stander looked certain to score after a long-range run before Haylett-Petty somehow held him up.
Carbery missed a penalty but then booted one shortly after to hand Ireland a 9-8 lead with 25 minutes remaining.
The Wallabies thought they had sealed victory with Folau’s try but it was Pocock who crashed over with brute force close to the line to score his first try since the 2015 World Cup final in a brilliant return in a gold jersey.
AUSTRALIA 18 (Bernard Foley, David Pocock tries; Foley conversion; Foley 2 penalties) defeated IRELAND 9 (Joey Carbery 3 penalties) at Suncorp Stadium. Crowd: 46,273. Referee: Marius Van Der Westhuizen.
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