With the Wallabies in somewhat uncharted territory of having been impressive in their first game of the domestic series, they entered match 2 with a rare opportunity to run with the same team as the previous week. The Irish, however, made plenty of changes. Some through injury, some through form but most by the seemingly planned return of rest stars. With another week of preparation for both teams how would this crucial Melbourne encounter play out?
The first half
With tries so hard to come by last week in Brisbane, fans were in a somewhat state of shock as the Aussies crossed the line in the second minute of the match. Following a fluffed kick-off take by the visitors, Australia secured ball from the lineout and proceeded to batter away at the Irish defense. Stretching the defense out-wide, followed by a strong Caleb Timu charge, the Irish were under pressure before Foley drifted wide and brought Kurtley Beale inside of him. Beale saw space, and with some quick feet, was away almost untouched under the posts. 7-0 Aussies.
Once the Irish finally got their hand on the ball it wouldn’t take long for them to prove a lot more effective in attack than last week. Whether it was down to Johnny Sexton’s inclusion, or the less confrontational Wallaby tackling, the Irish were making ground. A dangerous lifting tackle by Marika Koroibete saw him yellow carded and the Aussies under pressure. The resultant lineout had the Irish rolling it left to open up a big blind, where Conor Murray took advantage of Korobiete’s absence and threw a wide pass for Andrew Conway to score in the corner. 7-All.
Ill-discipline was hurting the Wallabies and Sexton’s kicking was making them pay. Three kicked penalties took the lead out to 16-7 to the visitors and the match was starting to slip from Australia’s grasp. 7-16 Ireland.
Ironically it would take another Yellow Card to turn the match. This time, following Australia’s first penalty of the match in the 25th minute, they set up a rolling maul from the lineout. With a try imminent, Cian Healy was deemed to have brought the maul down drawing not only 10 minutes in the bin, but also a Penalty Try. 14-16 Ireland.
The Irish were definitely the team in control as the Aussies struggled with their composure, as they were absolutely battered at the ruck. After some pushed passes half time came at the perfect time as the Aussies were again under pressure.
The second half
Michael Cheika showed his dissatisfaction with the Wallaby performance in the first stanza by pulling test rookies Caleb Timu, who had given away a number of penalties, and Brando Paenga-Amosa. With Adam Coleman copping head knock, from friendly fire, soon after the home team’s combination was sure to be tested.
While the Aussies battled to work out their combinations, the Irish continued to dominate across the field and looked to be across in the corner when winger Keith Earls barged through a Israel Folau tackle. He was ruled to have dropped the pill however the ref had been playing advantage and ruled an Irish penalty. The same result came soon after when the big fellah Tadhg Furlong would not be denied and scored a strong try over the top of replacement scrumhalf Nick Phipps. 14-23 Ireland.
Ireland’s dominance continued and the Aussies were almost completely shut out of the game. Any advantage we did gain was soon nullified by poor execution or, more readily, excellent work by the Irish at the breakdown. Another penalty from another strong ruck play stretched the visitor’s lead even further. 14-26 Ireland.
It wasn’t until the last four minutes did the Wallabies gain back some ascendancy and, once again, it took another Yellow Card to do so. This time it was reserve prop Jack McGrath who was caught playing the ball on the ground and he was ordered to leave the field. The Aussies did their best to deny themselves the try, but it was left to the rookie Taniela Tupou to power over from close to bring the lead to less than a converted try. 21-26 Ireland.
From a deep kick off the Aussies controlled play handily and worked their way up the field and gave hope to fans that we could perhaps pull off a late, albeit undeserved victory. As it was we got what we deserved, with a knock on ruled at the ruck, full-time called and the Irish claimed an impressive win.
In the end it seemed odd that the Aussies were as close as they were in this match such was the control the Irish seemed to have over them. As it was the teams move to Sydney for the series decided with both teams expected to have injury impacted build-ups to decide who takes home the Lansdowne Cup.
The Game Changer
I tempted to say the Beale try but will give the Aussies the benefit of the doubt as to whether they clocked off. But the match definitely changed on the back of the Koroibete Yellow Card. In reality though, it was the ruck strategy developed by the Irish during the week and implemented during the game that proved crucial.
The G&GR MOTM
Tadhg Furlong and Johnny Sexton were both hugely impactful on their return to the starting side but I thought the work of Peter O’Mahony was outstanding and he dominated the breakdown against the Pooper.
Unfortunately Timu and BPA will be under pressure to retain their starting spots, particularly with Tolu Latu proving effective off the bench. Tupou was also a handful when he replaced Kepu. As for the starters Pocock worked hard and Dane Haylett-Petty was a class act always out wide (and in the air).
Crowd: 29,000 ish
Score & Scorers
Tries: Kurtley Beale, Taniela Tupou
Conversions: Bernard Foley 2
Penalty try: 1
Tries: Andrew Conway, Tadhg Furlong
Conversions: Johnny Sexton 2
Penalties: Johnny Sexton 4
Yellow Cards: Marika Koroibete (Australia); Cian Healy (Ireland); Jack McGrath (Ireland)