Ireland levelled their Test series with Australia by pulling off a 26-21 victory in Melbourne.
There were tries from Munster wing Andrew Conway and Tadhg Furlong at AAMI Park while Johnny Sexton, returning at fly-half, excelled with the boot to propel Ireland clear.
Australia, who won the first Test 18-9, had Kurtley Beale and Taniela Tupou to thank for scoring but poor discipline cost the Wallabies dearly as Sexton was able to rack up four penalties.
Here, we take a look at some of the main takeaways from Melbourne.
It was a much improved display from the Irish.
Joe Schmidt’s men looked well-structured and efficient in attack all afternoon and their defence remained resolute anytime the Wallabies came bounding into their half.
In possession, they executed opportunities better, put more pressure on the Wallabies and their overall game management was superb as they attempted to get the ball wide to take advantage of the pace of Keith Earls and Jordan Larmour.
Any time Ireland forayed into the hosts half , they looked extremely focused, enticing Australia to get in over the top, something that referee Paul Williams was strong on the whistle, resulting in three penalties, which Sexton converted.
In defence, Ireland were granite-like, conceding no points when Cian Healy was in the sinbin on 26 minutes. In contrast, when Wallabies winger Marika Koroibete was yellow carded, Ireland took advantage and scored 16 points, through a converted Conway try and three Sexton kicks.
Sexton and O’Mahony lead by example
Returning to the starting XV after starting on the bench last week, Sexton looked instrumental.
The Leinster man is an inspirational presence and everyone around him plays better and look more confident any time he is in action.
He missed just one out of his seven kicks and put the Wallabies under pressure all day with his crisp passing ability, superb game management and clever kicks to touch.
Up front, Peter O’Mahony produced one of his best performances in an Irish jersey in recent times. He forced opponents into conceding penalties and made two vital poaches in the first-half to put the Men in Green on the front foot.
The 28-year-old tackled effectively, won his own ball comfortably and showed serious willingness in the tight areas. He was replaced with 17 minutes minute to a standing ovation.
Paying the penalty
Michael Cheika’s side didn’t bring the energy required and – apart from Beale’s early try – had few chances to light up the game, with Ireland more ruthless and aggressive.
Although they were shorn of the services of Will Genia to injury and big-name players like Israel Folau, Michael Hooper and Beale failed to replicate their first Test form, the Wallabies made too many unforced errors.
Penalties that did not need to be given away was central to their undoing. They were penalised 15 times (five times in first 20 minutes) – most of which could have been avoided – and in games decided by the smallest of margins, it cost them.
In terms of missed tackles, they made 22 in comparison to Ireland’s 18, and in attack, they looked rudderless at times, with 95 runs in contrast to Ireland’s 142.
Although they crossed for a late Taniela Tupou try and dominated at scrum and line-out time, Cheika will have plenty of work to do if the Wallabies are to win the series in Sydney next week.
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