DUBLIN – The Wallabies’ dreams of a Home Nations Grand Slam have been crushed in a heartbreaking defeat to Ireland, 27-24.
A number of key injuries to Ireland made the Wallabies strong favourites heading in to the Lansdowne Road clash, but nobody told the Irish on Captain Rory Best’s 100th test match in Irish Green.
Lion-hearted in defence but held toothless in attack in the first half, the Wallabies took 39 minutes to trouble the scorer on a typically hostile night in Dublin
Though the Wallabies fought back to hold a narrow lead in the 60th minute, Ireland landed the final blow and defended the dying minutes with courage to deny Australia any chance at an historic Grand Slam.
Two yellow cards, to Dean Mumm in the 22nd minute and Bernard Foley in the 78th, alongside an unflattering penalty count, cost the Wallabies dearly.
Ireland played like World Champions in the first half, firing a volley of hooks and uppercuts inside the opening quarter which only narrowly missed.
Rejecting several shots at goal in favour of launching all-out raids, Ireland dominated territory and possession but failed to land an opening blow in the face of lion-hearted scrambling defence.
Ireland would not pass up another penalty goal opportunity, converting a David Pocock infraction into points from 44 metres out to take a 3-0 lead in the 17th minute.
A 22nd minute Dean Mumm cleanout earned the flanker a yellow card for dumping Ireland prop Tadhg Furlong headfirst into the Lansdowne Road pitch.
It took Ireland less than a minute to score the try that had eluded their every move in the first quarter of the match.
A Simon Zebo grubber-kick cracked the Australian line, the ball eventually finding it’s way to lock Iain Henderson charging ahead for the opening try.
Ireland flyhalf Paddy Jackson converted to push his side out to a 10-0 lead.
Israel Folau came close to conjuring an Australian reply with a linebreak but couldn’t connect with Tevita Kuridrani outside him.
Ireland continued to frustrate Australian attacks with their own brand of impressive defence; choke tackles robbing the Wallabies of the momentum their attacking structures crave so dearly.
The scrum troubles exposed in weeks prior continued to haunt the Wallabies as the Irish again marched upfield to the tune of Jerome Garces’ whistle.
The return of Dean Mumm from the sinbin did little to stop Irish from darting through the line, though Australia argued that Rory Arnold was obstructed in the lead-up to centre Garry Ringrose’s maiden test try.
The Wallabies came home strong to finish the half, working the ball inside to Hooper, then Folau, then Haylett-Petty for a perfectly executed try between the posts.
Ireland headed to the sheds ahead 17-7 at the break.
The Wallabies were denied an early try to Henry Speight with a forward pass ruling, reminding the vocal Irish crowd that the game was from from finished.
Simple hands on the left wing beat the Irish defence for the second time within seven minutes, dotting down this time through Kuridrani to continue the centre’s purple patch of form.
A 49th minute Paddy Jackson penalty goal pushed the Irish lead out to 20-14, but the Wallabies were soon lining up to score again.
Super-sub Stefania Naivalu scored his maiden test try within minutes of entering the match, speeding outside the Irish defence to steal the lead, 20-21.
A Foley penalty goal consolidated the Wallaby lead even further in the 60th minute.
Dean Mumm’s discipline cost his side a third try in the 67th minute, foul play sending Ireland into the Wallaby red zone.
Winger Keith Earls crossed in the corner for a try and a perfect conversion from Jackson brought Ireland back into the lead with 13 minutes to play.
Counter-attacking in the 77th minute, Australia attacked down the left wing only to offload in to touch, providing Ireland the golden opportunity to crush dreams of a Grand Slam.
Australia’s chances were all but over when Bernard Foley was yellow carded for a lifting challenge on Ireland behemoth Devin Toner in the final minute.
Ireland won their own throw on the Wallaby 22 and packed a driving maul, chewing up the valuable final seconds.
Australia were granted one last chance to go 80m to steal back the most unlikely of victories, but one final scrum collapse would deny the man-short backs even the opportunity to chance their arm.
With Grand Slam dreams over, Australia turn their eyes to avenging a 0-3 home series against England at Twickenham next week.