A CJ Stander try and some desperate Ireland defence saw Joe Schmidt’s men secure a 2-1 series victory over Australia on Saturday, courtesy of a nail-biting 20-16 victory in Sydney.
The victory was a little bit of history for Ireland as they secured a series success over one of the southern hemisphere’s big three – New Zealand, South Africa or Australia – for the first time in 39 years.
An unconverted Stander try and four Johnny Sexton penalties had Ireland well placed at 17-9 ahead, but the Wallabies came roaring back through a converted try by wing Marika Koroibete, in addition to three Bernard Foley penalties, to come within one point.
From there, Australia laid siege to the Ireland line but the visitors just held out before Sexton kicked another penalty to stretch the lead to 20-16 with one minute to play.
But after Israel Folau claimed the restart and the Wallabies had one final attack, the Irish had to withstand a highly-dramatic TMO review against Jacob Stockdale for a potential knock on with the clock in the red.
The footage was unclear as to whether or not the Ireland wing had made contact with the ball at all, and with that the referee’s full-time whistle sounded to cue Irish celebration.
Sexton kicked the first points of the day after six minutes when Wallabies lock Adam Coleman was penalised for failing to roll away. As well as a 3-0 lead, the kick proved a significant personal milestone for Sexton as he became just the second man in Irish rugby history to rack up 700 points – now only behind Ronan O’Gara’s remarkable 1,083-point haul.
Australia were level in the 13th minute when, after Rob Kearney carried the ball back over his own tryline, he put a foot in touch and handed Australia a five-metre attacking scrum.
From the set-piece, Foley levelled things up with a penalty after Sexton was caught offside, before David Pocock thwarted two Irish attacks in quick succession with vital turnovers.
Australia lost their skipper Michael Hooper to a hamstring injury shortly after, but on 21 minutes the home side received a boost when Ireland wing Stockdale was yellow carded after a TMO review for catching Nick Phipps in the neck with his forearm/elbow while carrying.
Foley kicked the points to lead 6-3 but it was Ireland who would dominate the rest of Stockdale’s sin-bin period. First, Conor Murray put a kick from distance on the angle just wide, before Devin Toner knocked on a Sexton inside ball five metres from the Australia tryline.
All their pressure did finally tell when replacement Pete Samu gave away a cheap penalty for taking out Murray under the Australia posts and Sexton made it 6-6.
From the restart, Peter O’Mahony fell heavily for the second time under an aerial challenge from Folau, and when reviewed by the TMO, the Australia full-back was yellow carded for playing the Ireland captain in the air.
While Folau would be off for 10 minutes though, it was the end of O’Mahony’s night as he was stretchered off.
Seven minutes from the break, Ireland – for the second time on tour – had a try ruled out due to the replays on review being ‘inconclusive’. The Wallabies were offside in the same move, however, and Sexton kicked the simple penalty for a 9-6 lead.
The lead did not last long, though, as Foley kicked the sides level after Ireland were caught offside again in defence – this time through scrum-half Murray.
Joe Schmidt’s men would head into half-time with a slender lead, however, as from the restart Kearney challenged Dane Haylett-Petty in the air, and when the Wallabies wing knocked the ball on, centre Samu Kerevi caught it in an offside position. Sexton kicked the points to leave the score 12-9.
Coleman was perhaps lucky to avoid a yellow card within the first minute of the second half when he charged late into a ruck, before Ireland kicked to the corner and came within inches of mauling over before being brought down – the Wallabies surviving a penalty-try decision.
Ireland kicked to the corner again and this time they would not be stopped as Niall Scannell threw long and the Irish pack ferociously mauled over for Stander to touch down. Sexton missed the fairly simple conversion, though.
Australia won a scrum penalty against the head on 50 minutes but turned down the simple effort at goal for a kick to the corner. Ireland defended strongly initially, but after it looked like the wave of attack had ended when Folau dropped the ball and Stockdale hacked on, the chasing Murray was ruled offside.
Australia kicked to the corner again, and after several more phases, a cute Foley grubber kick was put through for Koroibete to pick up and barge his way to the line.
The Wallabies won another penalty soon after when Tolu Latu latched over the ball but with Foley turning down the shot to kick to touch again, Koroibete knocked on with Ireland stretched.
Australia won another scrum penalty with just over 15 minutes left and Foley found more territory as the momentum continued to completely switch towards the home team and away from the visitors.
A Robbie Henshaw high tackle handed Foley a chance to kick for the lead, but his effort five metres from the touchline just veered wide, letting Ireland off the hook.
The Wallabies had another opening when Kerevi made a clear line break but Foley knocked on as Ireland continued to hang on by a single point.
Into the final minutes, Ireland were able to hold onto possession and build up the pitch for the first time in a long time and from that attack, Latu was penalised at the breakdown and Sexton kicked over a superb penalty for a four-point lead.
Folau took the restart, though, as Australia launched forward one final attempt at a try to win the game and series, but when Foley’s pass went into touch with Australia seemingly set to score out wide, that was not the end of the drama.
Referee Pascal Guazere and Kiwi TMO Ben Skeen reviewed whether or not Stockdale had intentionally knocked the ball on, but replays showed he might not even have touched it, ending the game and allowing O’Mahony to return onto the pitch and lift the Lansdowne Cup.