Ireland 19 Australia 17
The scoreboard tells us that Ireland won this terrifically entertaining and edgy World Cup Pool C opener but the more nuanced reality is that they simply happened to be ahead when the clock struck eighty.
This was one that could have swung either way. And did, time and again. Australian captain Shannon Parry described it as one they let slip away.
Ireland found themselves 10-7 down with just 20 minutes to play and it can only be imagined what the tournament organisers were thinking at that point given defeat for the hosts would have sucked the air out of the entire event after just six of the scheduled 30 games.
This, quite simply, was a game the hosts should be winning and it was one they had to. With only the top team from each group guaranteed progress through to the semi-finals, and New Zealand and Canada both expected to emerge from Pool A, defeat was unconscionable.
Australia started the tournament ranked just one step below Ireland on the world rankings, sixth to their fifth, but they were playing only a sixth 15-a-side Test since seeing off Wales 30-3 in the 7th/8th-place playoff at the last World Cup, in 2014.
Ireland came armoured with a regular diet of matches stretching back years and with plenty of players who had soldiered on a number of successful campaigns in their ranks. Lack of cohesion wasn’t expected to be an issue.
A strong scrum, resolute defending and a lineout led by the superb Marie-Louise Reilly were testament to that and how Tom Tierney’s side needed all facets working as a big, mobile Wallaroos side moved the ball with intent and, when they could, pace.
Ireland’s time with the ball and/or in the opposing half in the first period was limited and their attempts at attack were impaired by a handful of individual errors but they put together all the right moves to take the lead after 20 minutes.
Reilly used her 6’ 3” frame to take the lineout near the Aussie 22 and, after a few up-the-jumper punches by her forward colleagues, the ball was moved right to just beyond the posts before scrum-half Larissa Muldoon sniped over.
Nora Stapleton’s conversion only increased the score’s worth.
The Australians didn’t take long to react. Jenny Murphy, brilliant in the tackle all half, seemed to have stemmed another approach into the Irish danger area when a quick lineout fed sevens flyer Mahalia Murphy in acres of space on the opposite wing.
Eimear Considine, left one-on-one, stood no chance. A scuffed conversion from Samantha Treherne left the Irish 7-5 to the good but they would finish the half firefighting with one attack necessitating a trio of crunching tackles from Hannah Tyrrell, Murphy and Cliodhna Moloney before the danger passed.
After an opening day of walkovers, the tournament finally had a contest.
The physicality was like nothing seen in the first four games earlier in the day with Chloe Butler replaced after a Head Injury Assessment on the Australian side and Jenny Murphy hobbling off shortly after the restart for Ireland.
If intensity was high then scores were at more of a premium but the full house at the UCD Bowl was silenced after 58 minutes when, after a series of punishing carries, Australian captain Shannon Parry edged over the try line.
The response, as with Australia’s to Irish opener in the first-half, was immediate.
Alison Miller broke what felt like a few furlongs up the left wing and the screw was ultimately turned some minutes later when replacement Ciara Griffin touched down, crucially, underneath the posts. Stapleton’s conversion pushed the lead out to four.
Still, not nearly the degree of separation needed to breed comfort. It took another eight minutes to engineer that.
That and a lorry-load of effort. None of it was pretty, just damned effective, as a series of pick and drives from the Irish pack funneled into the corner where Sophie Spence, another replacement, went over.
A nod from the TMO and Ireland were nine to the good with ten to go.
If only that were that.
The intensity never dropped but the collective toll began to tell on each and every individual. Ball carriers were finding weak shoulders and tired minds and tighthead prop Hilisha Samoa kept the pot boiling until the end with the game’s sixth try.
Australia’s first successful conversion left it 19-17 to the Six Nations runners-up as the sun dipped and the clock ticked. The roar that greeted the last whistle was more a chorus of relief, roughly 3,500 people exhaling as one in the knowledge that disaster had been averted. Just about.
Ireland: H Tyrrell; E Considine, J Murphy, S Naoupu, A Miller; N Stapleton, L Muldoon; L Peat, C Moloney, A Egan; P Fitzpatrick, ML Reilly; A Baxter, C Molloy, H O’Brien. Replacements: K Fitzhenry for Murphy (47); S Spence for Fitzpatrick and C O’Connor for Egan (both 51); C Griffin for O’Brien (58).
Australia: S Treherne; N Marsters, K Sauvao, S Williams, M Murphy; T Pomare, K Barker; L Patu, C Campbell, H Samoa, C Butler, M Boyle, M Gray, S Parry, G Hamilton. Replacements: R Clough for Boyle (16-28 and HT); A Hewson for Maresters (70); S Riordan for Sauvao and H
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