‘We don’t have that final element’

Australia 18 Ireland 12
SO after a long and difficult season and 14 matches consisting of six wins and eight losses, the Ireland rugby team flew home from Melbourne yesterday, perhaps happy to see the back of the 07-08 season that included a demoralising World Cup campaign, a poor Six Nations and two frustrating summer tour defeats Down Under.

However, at least the last two games saw Ireland’s fortunes on an upward spiral.

Saturday also brought Michael Bradley’s brief but progressive tenure as interim Ireland head coach to a close, and when the squad regroups in August for a short camp, Declan Kidney will be calling the shots. After a week that included meetings with Alan Gaffney and Tony McGahan as prospective candidates for his Ireland back room staff, Kidney sat in the Telstra Dome observing an Irish side go down once again to southern hemisphere opposition.

However he’ll have taken pride from a match Ireland deserved to win. As in Wellington a week earlier, this may go down as another of those glorious defeats that we seem to specialise in. But after a long hard season a performance such as this at least went a good way towards exorcising most, if not all, of their World Cup demons.

The visitors created the chances but could not put a limited Australian side to the sword and Kidney, more than anyone, knows the players would balk at being regarded as ‘gallant losers’. Something intangible, however, is preventing this group from winning these close matches — particularly against southern hemisphere opposition.

One person who has the capability of removing this psychological barrier is Kidney, and when the All Blacks come calling in November, you can be certain the former Munster maestro will have the team believing they can win.

Skipper Brian O’Driscoll feels Ireland need to learn how to grind out these results.

“We’ve been here and pushed these sides so close, so many times; we just don’t have that final element. Eoin Reddan made a good point that is maybe when we’re getting to a crucial point in a game, when we feel as though the tide is turning, we are just throwing those 50-50 passes when we just need to be a little bit more stable, a little bit more secure and just try and grind out results rather than throw the miracle ball.

“If we get anything, that’s probably one of the most relevant points that we’ll get from this tour.”

A player who promises a brighter future is Rob Kearney who, for the second successive Test, gave a world class performance from full back and duly picked up the man-of-the match-award. Assured under the high ball, the Louth man dazzled the Australians with neat footwork — he beat four defenders in a 56th minute cameo — attacked from varying angles and kicked smartly. Ronan O’Gara also stood up to be counted, attacking the gain-line with sumptuous flat passes off both hands and was a central figure in Ireland’s eye-catching expansive approach in a game they dominated both in the possession stakes (63% possession) and territorially. Beside him Paddy Wallace and Brian O’Driscoll complimented each other well, Tommy Bowe looked razor sharp while, in the forwards, Denis Leamy and Paul O’Connell were immense. Jamie Heaslip atoned for his under-par display in Wellington providing plenty go-forward ball and replacement Stephen Ferris brought added physicality to the Irish effort.

Bizarrely, Peter Stringer was replaced in the 52nd minute though Reddan didn’t necessarily weaken Ireland’s attack. Stringer’s quick-fire service provided Ireland will a good attacking platform but he will was guilty of one poor decision in one of game’s pivotal moments. Just before half time Ireland won an eminently kickable penalty in front of the posts, but Stringer opted for a quick tap penalty sensing perhaps Ireland could break through the Aussies. O’Gara certainly would have converted to leave the score at 15-10 rather than 15-7 at half time and when Matt Giteau added a penalty four minutes after the interval, it made Ireland’s task even harder.

But Ireland had a real go, and they were all spark and craft under the closed roof. O’Gara was immense, initiating another fine three-quarter move in the 52nd minute. Wallace broke though midfield and was one offload away from putting Reddan clear for a try. Then O’Driscoll intercepted a Berrick Barnes cross field kick in the 56th minute, sprinted down the touchline but his pass inside to Wallace was poor. The Irish captain did cross for his first try since the Argentina match at the RWC in the 67th minute following wonderful work by Bowe. Though O’Gara pulled the conversion slightly left, Ireland kept hunting for more scores, sensing victory.

Jerry Flannery’s lineout throwing let him down in two key moments in the 78th and 79th minutes and but for a forward pass by Paul O’Connell Ireland would have been through. All these errors proved costly. Ireland produced the 80-minute performance O’Driscoll promised on Friday, but don’t tell him they’re gallant losers.

“No-one in that dressing-room wants to be a gallant loser. We’ve moved on from that a long time ago.”

Scorers for Australia: B Barnes and J Horwill try each; M Giteau 2 pens, con

Scorers for Ireland: D Leamy and B O’Driscoll try each; R O’Gara con.

AUSTRALIA: C Shepherd; P Hynes, S Mortlock, B Barnes, L Tuqiri; M Giteau, L Burgess; B Robinson, S Moore, M Dunning; J Horwill, N Sharpe; R Elsom, G Smith, W Palu.

Replacements: S Cordingley for Burgess (77), A Freier for Moore (73), A Baxter for Dunning (58), D Mumm for Elsom (71), P Waugh for Palu (73).

IRELAND: R Kearney; S Horgan, B. O’Driscoll, P Wallace, T Bowe; R O’Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, R Best, J Hayes; D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell; D Leamy, S Jennings, J Heaslip.

Replacements: G Murphy for Horgan (59), G Dempsey for B. O’Driscoll (71), E Reddan for Stringer (51), J Flannery for Best (51), T Buckley for Hayes (53), S Ferris for Jennings (25).

Attendance: 47,500

Referee: C Berdos (France).


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