Australia 21 Ireland26: A long hot summer of regret and a determination not to revisit the pain of their 2016 tour to South Africa will help drive the bid to reach new heights in Sydney this Saturday after Ireland tied the series with this well-deserved victory at AAMI Park.
Saturday’s impressive victory over the Wallabies gave the Irish a first win on Australian soil since 1979 and now Joe Schmidt’s side have a chance to emulate their predecessor’s series success of 39 years ago.
The win sparked celebrations across Melbourne on Saturday night as a huge expatriate population made merry after roaring their support inside the stadium, providing all the decibels and supplying perhaps 60 per cent of the 29,018 crowd.
There will possibly be more Irish inside Allianz Park this Saturday for a game that had sold out its 45,000-plus ticket allocation long before the squad arrived, such is the wonderful outlet for Irish pride that this tour is providing those far from home.
For now, the head coach is keeping the champagne on ice, for though his side kept this three-Test series alive with a famous win following the disappointment of defeat in the opening match in Brisbane, he knows Ireland are only now back to square one.
“Nothing feels monumental when it’s one-all,” Schmidt declared on Saturday night but having seen his squad build from a near-miss in this season’s Six Nations opener in Paris into an outfit that swept to the Grand Slam with victory at Twickenham six weeks later, the Ireland boss is banking on that sort of consistency to get them over the line at Allianz Park next weekend.
Saturday’s victory finished on a more nervy note than had seemed possible given Ireland’s improved and dominant performance for three-quarters of the game. Down to 14 men following the sin-binning of replacement loosehead prop Jack McGrath and with diminutive replacement fly-half Joey Carbery thrown on at the death for cramping lock Devin Toner. Yet just as they had dug deep to eke out that drop-goal victory against France in February, the green defensive line was resolute enough to hold out a worrying Wallabies rally.
“We have been building towards that (consistency),” Schmidt said. “I remember the last time we beat Australia (in Dublin in 2016), it was similar today in that we had guys all over the place, across the backline towards the end of the game, and it was on the back of having beaten the All Blacks in Chicago and then having to play them again, two weeks afterwards, in Dublin.
"The brutality of that second (New Zealand) Test did cost us a little bit but we were in that game up until the last 15 minutes against the All Blacks, and if you can stay in the game until the last 15 or 20 minutes against the All Blacks, then you probably are putting in good performances back to back.
“I did feel in the Six Nations that this was something we did and we managed to build on. I thought our best 40 minutes was that first half in Twickenham, and we built from that France game.
Ireland have shown they can also fight tooth and nail for those final centimetres of rugby real estate but as recently as two summers ago it was a different story as an injury-depleted tour squad could not follow up a first victory over the Springboks on South African soil in the series opener, going on to lose the second and third Tests.
That 2-1 series loss to Boks has been nagging at the back of Irish minds, players and management alike.
“They always do because you remember those ones more than the ones you do get, because they are missed opportunities, and you want to nail as many opportunities as you can,” Schmidt said.
“So it is probably at the back of your minds, although the team is very different to that day. I think of the players in the backline today, Keith (Earls) is the only one who played in that Test in South Africa. There are changes in the forward pack too. But at the same time, it is always relevant.”
Toner confirmed that those memories have not faded and were informing the mindset on this tour, adding: “We said this has happened before in South Africa, when we were one-all going into the last game and we let it slip.
“So it’s just about getting the bodies right, getting the preparation right this week and obviously going hell for leather next week, because a lot of the lads were on that South Africa tour and they know what it’s like.
“It lingers with you for the whole summer. You’re on your holidays and you’re thinking about it to be honest. A lot of the lads will remember that and that will be in the back of our heads.”
So one last push before thoughts are permitted to turn to the beach.
“It is going to massive, absolutely massive,” Schmidt said of the effort that will be required in Sydney over the last few days of this 2017-18 campaign. “If we can pull this one off, it will be a little bit special for this group that have come on tour. It was great to get another debutant on with Tadhg Beirne because that keeps growing the competition internally, to help us be as competitive as we can be externally, because the competition does not get much hotter, than 1-1 in Sydney against the Wallabies, with a chance to win the series.”
I Folau; D Haylett-Petty, S Kerevi, K Beale (R Hodge, 64), M Koroibete; B Foley, W Genia (N Phipps, 27); S Sio (T Robertson, 71), B Paenga-Amosa (T Latu, h-t), S Kepu (T Tupou, 50); I Rodda (P Samu, 56), A Coleman (R Simmons, 42); D Pocock, M Hooper - captain, C Timu (L Tui, h-t).
M Koroibete 6-16 mins
R Kearney; A Conway (J Larmour, 14), G Ringrose, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton (J Cooney, 79), C Murray; C Healy (J McGrath, 46), N Scannell (R Herring, 48), T Furlong (A Porter, 71); James Ryan, D Toner (J Carbery, 76); P O’Mahony - captain (T Beirne, 64), D Leavy (J McGrath, 32-38; J Murphy, h-t), CJ Stander.
C Healy 27-37 mins; J McGrath 76 mins.
Paul Williams (New Zealand).
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