Joe Schmidt breathed a huge sigh of relief as his Ireland team clung on for a historic series victory in Australia as they beat the Wallabies for a second week in a row to claim the Lansdowne Cup.
Head coach Schmidt saw the Six Nations champions and Grand Slam winners round out a momentous season with a first series win in the Southern Hemisphere since 1979, when Ireland won both Tests in Australia in a two-game series.
The 2018 national team got it done over three games and had to come from behind after losing the opening Test in Brisbane, defeating the Wallabies in Melbourne last Saturday and then edging past Michael Cheika’s side in front of an Allianz Stadium record crowd of 44,085.
Having dominated the opening half and surviving both a sin-binning for wing Jacob Stockdale and the loss to injury of skipper Peter O’Mahony, Ireland led 12-9 at the interval thanks to Johnny Sexton outscoring opposing fly-half Bernard Foley by four penalties to three.
Man of the match CJ Stander finished off a strong Irish maul with the opening try on 44 minutes to open up a 17-9 lead but Australia came storming back, Marika Koroibete scoring a Foley-converted try 10 minutes later to make it a one-point game.
Ireland relied on some last-ditch defensive heroics and, in the eyes of Wallabies head coach Cheika some favourable refereeing calls by French official Pascal Gauzere and his team.
The home side had had Israel Folau yellow-carded in the first half for taking out O’Mahony in the air in an incident that led to the Irish flanker’s injury and they were furious when substitute hooker Tolu Latu was penalised two minutes from time for going off his feet at a ruck when he appeared to be fairly supporting his own body weight.
Sexton accepted the invitation and nailed the penalty to make it a four-point game, leaving Ireland to hang on for dear life, surviving a late TMO check on a potential deliberate knock-on by Stockdale to claim a famous victory.
"Tough, tough to watch that,” Schmidt said of those last few minutes.
"They just kept coming wave after wave, I thought (Australia) were super in that second half and I thought it was a super effort from our guys to hang on in and keep them out.
"They came in waves, the speed they came on to the ball it was really hard keep them off our advantage line, so once they started getting that momentum they were even harder to contain.
"It's a credit to our guys for hanging in there and it is probably a credit to Wallabies, because I thought they did a fantastic job of carrying incredibly well.”
Following on from the Grand Slam, secured on St Patrick’s Day with a win over England at Twickenham, Schmidt was asked to compare this series win.
"It's up there,” he replied, “I think they are a super team.
"To be in their backyard and manage to sneak off with the Lansdowne Trophy is a little bit special for us, especially on the back of a pretty long season.
"It is a credit to players, they dug in just well enough. I'm pretty pleased there is not a game next week – that might have been a bridge too far.
"But the Wallabies are going in the other direction, they have got fuel in the tank and I think they are building, I'm sure Cheiks is pretty happy with some of what they're doing, particularly in that second-half.”
Schmidt was even happy with the way his team had reacted to a late arrival at the stadium, the team bus having been caught up in traffic on route to Allianz Stadium.
“It took just over 13 minutes to get here yesterday and just over 30 today.
“It’s happened to us before, and I think we kind of got knocked off our stride and went down 21-5 or something at half-time against Scotland a couple of years ago.
"It's good for the team, I think there are always things that are going to come at you from different sides… Sometimes that sort of thing happens, you have got to be able to take it in your stride.
"Most teams have a real rhythm in how they build to a game, when that gets disrupted it can be a little bit of a distraction.
"But it's the first time in the series that we've scored the first points. So, we got off to not too bad a start."
Claiming a Southern Hemisphere scalp over three Tests, the Ireland boss said was “big for us because we don't do that very often and it was 39 years ago. I did have a good chat to a couple of the guys who did it last time (in 1979). Ollie Campbell is a guy I've got huge respect for.
“We had a bit of a chat about it. He’s such an enthusiast and his confidence was brimming that we could do it. I didn’t quite share the confidence at the time because I knew how tough it was going to be and that was evident in those final minutes, not just tonight but last weekend as well.”
“They were coming in waves and we managed to keep them out as well. I feel that potentially we were a little bit fortuitous and the margins are so fine. I didn’t think we were far off in Brisbane either. It’s been a fantastic series.”
I Folau; D Haylett-Petty, S Kerevi, K Beale, M Koroibete (R Hodge, 69); B Foley, N Phipps (J Powell, 61); S Sio (T Robertson, 61), B Paenga-Amosa (T Latu, h-t), S Kepu (T Tupou, 56); I Rodda (N Hanigan, 71), A Coleman (R Simmons, 56); L Tui, M Hooper – captain (P Samu, 16), D Pocock.
R Kearney (J Larmour, 57); K Earls, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath (C Healy, 56), N Scannell (R Herring, 56), T Furlong (John Ryan, 66); D Toner, James Ryan; CJ Stander, P O'Mahony - captain (J Murphy, 30), J Conan (T Beirne, 69).
K Marmion, R Byrne.
Pascal Gauzere (France)