Ireland’s rotten run in the southern hemisphere continued with a 22-15 defeat to Australia in Brisbane.
The Irish failed to win a single match on their 2010 Australasian tour, capitulating to the All Blacks, the New Zealand Maori and finally Australia. Their 31-year losing streak in the southern hemisphere continues, and they will regret a defeat to the Aussies, their World Cup pool opponents, just a year out from the global tournament.
While a young Ireland pack battled for consistency, flyhalf Jonny Sexton ensured they capitalised on Australia’s errors. Sexton nailed five penalties in the first half to give his side a sniff, but Ireland’s inability to threaten the Wallabies’ tryline underlined their lack of variation. Brian O’Driscoll couldn’t provide the necessary spark from midfield while winger Tommy Bowe also had limited opportunities.
The Wallabies forwards were just as erratic, although it may please coach Robbie Deans to see them winning a few scrums. They conceded too many penalties within Sexton’s range, but showed some enterprise when they built through the phases. Unfortunately for the home fans, these promising movements often ended in frustration due to poor handling or determined Irish defending.
Deans will be worried about the team’s synergy, but the gamebreakers again highlighted their threat. At an Irish scrum in the 18th minute, Luke Burgess got between the Ireland No 8 and scrumhalf to score the game’s first try. Wallabies halfback partner Quade Cooper had the final say in the first stanza, stepping between two forwards and avoiding the cover defence to earn his team a 16-15 lead. It seemed a cruel punishment for an Irish team that had defended admirably, but as seen by Ireland, Wales and England in recent matches, northern sides battle with their concentration in the dying stages of a half.
Australia enjoyed more opportunities after the break, but poor decision-making and handling cost them yet again. Replacement Kurtley Beale grubbered when he only had a prop to beat, and even though the referee brought them back for a kickable penalty, the lack of synergy was proving problematic.
Matt Giteau’s goal gave the hosts some breathing room at 19-15, and the Irish began to tire and make mistakes of their own. They slipped tackles and killed the ball under their own posts, a transgression that led to a further three points for Giteau. With 19 minutes to play, they were never going to outplay the Aussies.
Ireland end their international season on a low, and while Australia have improved since their defeat to England, they should struggle in the Tri-Nations. Their set-piece problems and high-error count will surely be punished by South Africa and New Zealand, while the Aussie gamebreakers will find life harder against two of the best defensive units in the game.
By Jon Cardinelli