Simon Lewis, Brisbane
In a fast and furious game at Suncorp Stadium, Australia kept Ireland tryless, breaking what had been a close game open in the final 10 minutes.
Full-back Israel Folau had thought he had made the breakthrough with a try in the corner after Bundee Aki had coughed up possession only to see his score rubbed out by an off the ball tackle earlier in the scoring sequence.
That was a harsh call but there was no argument about the Australian attack on 71 minutes as Folau, who dominated the aerial battles all night, soared on halfway and put Ireland on the back foot, Jacob Stockdale conceding a penalty for holding on five metres out and Australia taking the brave decision to tap and go when a close-range penalty goal would have put them 14-9 up with the clock ticking.
Their reward came moments later as man of the match David Pocock crashed over for the Wallabies third try of the night, Bernard Foley’s conversion opening up an 18-9 lead. Ireland’s 12-match winning run which had brought a Six Nations Grand Slam condemned Joe Schmidt’s men to a first loss since the defeat to Wales in Cardiff in March 2017.
All eyes were on Joey Carbery as he started at fly-half for Joe Schmidt ahead of Johnny Sexton in a bid to expose the 22-year-old to big-time Test rugby. By and large the Munster-bound number 10 passed the examination in his 56 minutes on the field.
It was far from perfect and there were moments when there could have been better decision-making as well a missed penalty on 46 minutes he will rue, but after a shaky start Carbery dealt with the extra heat the Australians sent down his channel and managed the game well.
Regardless of the result, and he left the field having handed his team a 9-8 lead, It all added up to a solid investment that will stand to Carbery and Ireland come the World Cup next year.
Flankers David Pocock and captain Michael Hooper had come in with big reputations as a major breakdown threat to the Irish and they lived up to the billing with a massive performance.
Pocock not only scored the game-clinching try, his first since the 2015 World Cup final, but put in a huge amount of work with 12 tackles and a handful of ruck turnovers, while Hooper made 18 tackles and missed none.
Twelve weeks after being stood down as a touch judge at Twickenham for Ireland’s Grand Slam decider after refereeing an England training session, South African official Marius van der Westhuizen took charge of the Six Nations champions and penalised them twice in the opening minute.
It was a fast-paced, helter-skelter contest and van der Westhuizen did make mistakes, disallowing Israel Folau’s second-half try for an off the ball tackle upfield way back in the scoring sequence that would have had no impact on the try appeared to be nit-picking but he did not alter the outcome.
Ireland’s Keith Earls failed a Head Injury Assessment after going up for a high ball and copping an elbow from opposing wing Dane Haylett-Petty in the 25th minute while both Conor Murray and Joey Carbery needed on-field treatment following big hits in contact during an immensely physical effort from the Wallabies.
The bandwagon departs Brisbane on Sunday and moves south to Melbourne ahead of next Saturday’s second Test at AAMI Park, home of Super Rugby’s Rebels, who hosted the British & Irish Lions there in 2013.
The tourists won 35-0 with from Conor Murray and Sean O’Brien among the tryscorers in a side also featuring Rob Kearney and Simon Zebo. Ireland, however, have a series to save.