AUCKLAND, New Zealand, Saturday 17 – Ireland won the high-stakes battle with Australia to go top of Pool C and close in on a World Cup quarter-final berth with a tenacious 15-6 upset at Eden Park on Saturday.
The fighting Irish won the tactical battle and hustled the world number two Wallabies out of their rhythm with determined defence and judicious kicking in conducive wet conditions.
It was Ireland’s first win over the Wallabies in five World Cup encounters and comes after they were twice beaten at the World Cup by a point in 1991 and 2003. Once again they rose to the occasion of the underdog against Australia.
The win takes Ireland to eight points in their pool, three ahead of the Wallabies with two matches to play, but it was a huge psychological blow for one of the fancied tournament teams.
It was a triumph for Brian O’Driscoll’s Irish team, who went into the match in indifferent form and with questions about whether they could stay with the Wallabies over the 80 minutes.
But the Wallabies in the end had no answer to the relentless pressure the Irish exerted on them and playmakers Quade Cooper and Will Genia were subdued by swarming defenders.
“We had to go to the well today. We had to dig deeper that we had done in these last five games. But it’s only half the job done with just two games and there are two more games to come,” said O’Driscoll.
His Australian counterpart Brian Horwill said: “The Irish did very well and we played some dumb football. We were not good enough. We didn’t deal with it well enough.
“Ireland did very well to spoil our game. They deserved to win. We needed to play a bit smarter and didn’t hold onto the ball enough.”
The pre-match withdrawals of hooker Stephen Moore and openside flanker David Pocock were also keenly felt, with their replacements Tatafu Polota-Nau and Ben McCalman not measuring up on the occasion.
Ronan O’Gara came off the reserves bench to kick two crucial penalties and further increase his Irish record to 1,039 points.
A near capacity 58,678 crowd generated a crackling atmosphere as both teams ripped into each other in the opening stages.
Fullback Kurtley Beale was prominent, spectacularly regathering his own high kick to put the Wallabies on the front foot before James O’Connor landed an 11th minute penalty.
The Irish equalised through fly-half Jonathan Sexton’s penalty after Rocky Elsom had been penalised and hit the front minutes later through a Sexton drop goal.
The Irish forwards forced three turnovers, particularly on centre Pat McCabe carrying the ball too high into contact as the Wallaby scrum came under pressure.
Ireland enjoyed more territory and had Wallaby scrum-half Genia under constant pressure upsseting Australia’s rhythm and ball flow to the backline.
O’Connor levelled with his second penalty, but the Irish finished the half the better with blindside flanker Stephen Ferris picking up Genia and driving him backwards 15m after an untidy Wallaby scrum win.
Sexton kicked Ireland to the front 9-6 after James Horwill was offside in a ruck eight minutes after the interval.
O’Gara came on and kicked a crucial penalty to put the Irish six points ahead with 18 minutes left.
The Australians had to defend for their lives after a high kick put the Wallabies under pressure on their own try-line but they held firm.
The Irish kept cranking up the pressure in the rain and prop Cian Healy forced the Australian front row to go down and get a crucial penalty.
O’Gara slotted it over to give the Irish a nine-point lead with the Australians losing all the key plays.
The Wallabies’ big chance came seven minutes in a rare attacking raid but centre Anthony Fainga’a pass to winger Adam Ashley-Cooper went sailing into touch and the chance was gone.
Irish winger Tommy Bowe almost scored the only try of the match with an 80m intercept two minutes from time but was chased down by O’Connor five metres from the try-line.