Simon Lewis looks at the areas where Ireland improved in the second test against Australia.
Ireland conceded an uncharacteristic 21 turnovers in the first Test defeat. On Saturday it was a different story, Ireland conceding just nine turnovers to their rivals as the tourists looked after their ball much better and reduced the attacking threat that had proven so lethal. It is worth noting that Australia also tightened up their act, reducing their turnover count from 12 to six.
The Irish came off second best in the series opener as Australia full-back Israel Folau ruled the air, using his athleticism to soar above his opponents and claim virtually everything kicked towards him by Ireland. Saturday’s aerial contest was much more balanced with both sides dramatically reducing their kicks out of hand, Australia from 26 to 11, Ireland from 22 to 10, and Beale off form with the boot.
When the ball went up the Irish back three was much better at contesting with Keith Earls showing what was missed the previous week after going off injured, while Rob Kearney cut a more confident figure than he had done during parts of the first Test.
Ireland were determined to fix the problems that led to the pivotal scrum penalty that changed the momentum of the Brisbane game as replacement front row Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong failed to deal with the pressure coming onto them from the Australian tighthead side. The penalty led to the game-clinching try and Irish management determined the weak spot was at hooker. They started Niall Scannell and sidelined their most experienced hooker Cronin, the belief being that Scannell was not only heavier but also a better scrummager. The outcome was successful with some solid scrummaging that provided a good platform in Melbourne.
Ireland did not lack for try-scoring opportunities in Brisbane but failed to apply the finish. This time around there was a measured improvement, one fewer line break but a sharp rise in defenders beaten, from 18 to 34 and most importantly, two tries. Two more were disallowed for the second week in succession and Ireland could have had another couple of again as the home side conceded a string of penalties under pressure from the visitors but they will need to finish more clinically in the final Test.
Ireland came into this series lauded as having the best disciplinary record of the tier-one nations yet have now conceded 10 or more penalties in their last three games, in the Six Nations finale against England (12), last week’s first Test (10) and this weekend’s second Test (12).
Throw in two yellow cards and a penalty try on Saturday and the upshot was that Ireland nearly lost a game they had been dominating.
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