It’s becoming an all-too-familiar tale for Wallabies supporters: the side has gone down by just three points in the dying moments, with poor discipline and injuries costing Australia in a loss to Ireland on Sunday morning.
Dave Rennie’s men had the majority of the possession during the match, but went down 13-10 to the world’s number one ranked side; who were playing in front of more than 50,000 patriarchal Irish fans at Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Down by three points with just two minutes to go, Australia had a chance to level the scores with a penalty kick, but opted to go for the try and were then penalised – effectively ending their chances.
The Test resembled a chess match as both sides took an engrossing, methodical approach to the game, but in the end discipline (or lack thereof) and injury had a big say in the Wallabies fortunes.
A familiar scenes: Wallabies stars can’t believe they have lost yet another close call on Sunday against Ireland in Dublin
Star prop Taniela Tupou was stretchered off with what appeared to be a serious leg injury, while Hunter Paisami (medial knee ligament), Dave Porecki (head knock), Rob Valentini (foot) and Andrew Kellaway (foot) all failed to finish the match.
Despite the result consigning Australia to their third loss in a row, Rennie said he was proud of the way his side finished yet another match marred by injuries.
‘It was a tough game. The boys showed a hell of a lot of character to stay in the fight; but we are gutted,’ he said on the Stan Sport broadcast after the match.
‘We got a lot of injuries and lost players early and had to play for a while with 13 … we had a lot of ball, but credit to the Irish: they defended really well.’
Of course the blame for the loss against a well-drilled Ireland side cannot rest with injuries, as per usual it is the Wallabies lack of discipline and attention to detail – often at the most crucial moments – that cost the side.
In particular a yellow card to Folau Fainga’a for a needless penalty cost the side dearly.
Folau Fainga’a is given a yellow card for a needless ‘neck roll’ penalty just before half-time
Late in the first half, a ‘baffling’ decision by Fainga’a to take out an Irish player, when the ball was being passed 20m back to take a kick, led to the hooker being given a yellow card.
It meant Australia were forced to play with 13 men and uncontested scrums for several minutes given Porecki’s was already off and unable to return. Fainga’a was slammed by former Wallabies lock Justin Harrison in a scathing rebuke.
‘He lacks the poise and maturity of a Test player,’ a flummoxed Harrison said as referee Ben O’Keefe sent Fainga’a from the field three minutes before half time.
A forlorn-looking Dave Rennie cuts a solemn figure after another Wallabies loss on Sunday
It was just another ‘neck roll’ penalty in a match beset by the calls – many of which Harrison and fellow former Wallabies star Tim Horan thought were unneccesary.
Such was the rate of the offences, O’Keefe could be heard saying there was ‘constant foul play’ just 30 minutes into the first half as he warned both captains.
Wallabies scrum half Nic White looked to have opened the scoring when he took off through a hole in the defence and dove over to score just three minutes into the game – but the TMO overturned the try over a questionable ‘neck roll’ from Porecki at the breakdown.
Mark Nawaqanitawase was brilliant for the Wallabies, and was a constant threat in attack
A 21-phase march saw the Wallabies advance to within 10 metres of their try line midway through the half – but once again a neck roll ended their chances, and both Harrison and on-field skipper James Slipper noted how the Irish players were cleverly slowing the breakdown.
Lead by last-minute injury replacement, Jack Crowley was mightily impressive for the men in green standing in for Johnny Sexton – and the rookie kicked true to put Ireland ahead 3-0 before his Aussie counterpart levelled scores 55 minutes in.
The arm wrestle continued, with neither side giving an inch, other than the 12 penalties conceded by each side.
The deadlock was finally broken 14 minutes before the fulltime siren with Ireland centre Bundee Aki crossing on the back of – surprise, surprise – another needless Wallabies penalty with Crowley adding the extras with all the poise of a seasoned veteran.
The Wallabies returned serve just minutes later, with a rampaging Will Skelton carrying five defenders towards the try line before hands saw Jordan Petaia cross out side and Foley tying the scores with a successful conversion.
Bundee Aki, who scored a try for Ireland, celebrates his side’s heart-stopping win
Jordan Petaia (left) scores a try for Australia, levelling the scores with just minutes to go
Scores tied, and it felt like deja vu.
The Wallabies had all the momentum, all the possession (409 metres from 63 runs as opposed to 39/227) and were beginning to find it easier to break the line.
It’s enough to give even the most ardent of Wallabies fans a pit in their stomach.
Sure enough, the Wallabies scrum, which had been rock solid for the previous 75 minutes, conceded its first penalty of the game – with replacement fly-half Ross Byrne calmly slotting home the goal.
The Wallabies threw everything at the Wolfhounds in the dying minutes, but two basic errors with victory potentially in sight ended their chances and consigned the side to yet another defeat that ended with the question: ‘What if?’
Powerhouse Wallabies lock Will Skelton leaves several defenders in his wake as he makes a run on Sunday morning
Mark Nawaqanitawase, Tom Wright and Petaia were brilliant in the back line, looking to finally bring some much-needed cohesion to the side; while Skelton and Valetini doing a power of work in the forwards.
Former Brumbies winger Mack Hansen got the last laugh with a strong performance, while Crowley and Caelan Doris were two of Ireland’s best.
A heartbreaking loss, of course, but Harrison was in no doubt they side had regathered some of the pride in the jersey back after last weekend’s diabolical loss to Ireland.
A dejected Nick Frost looks to the heavens after Australia goes down to Ireland in Dublin on Sunday morning (AEDT)
‘There was a lot to like about the performance … I thought physically they (Australia) really aimed up tonight; Skelton was immense and Mark Nawaqanitawase looked so comfortable and dominated possession,’ Wallabies legend Drew Mitchell said on the broadcast.
‘But there was one thing not to like and that was the scoreboard.
‘I feel like the story once more is the lack of discipline from the Wallabies … yet again we are talking about fine margins, a lack of dscipline, focus and concentration … repeated infringements which proved to be crucial,’ Mitchell said.
Slipper conceded that while he was proud in the determination the side showed, it was devastating to yet again not take advantage of the big moments.
‘We knew it was going to be a tough game. I’m just gutted at the way it ended,’ he said after the match.
‘We had a chance to win the game, but Test matches are won off big moments and at the end of the day we lost them.
‘We wanted to respond after last weeks loss though, and I think we did that,’ said Slipper.
Ireland weren’t at their best – that is clear – but the fact this well-drilled side could remain so calm in the face of wave after wave of Aussie attacking phasing shows exactly why they are the number one team in the world.
Ireland players celebrate after the final siren confirms their three-point victory over Australia – their third in a row
Stand-in captain Peter O’Mahony said it was the home crowd that helped get the side over the line.
‘It was a serious Test match,’ a relieved O’Mahoney said after the match.
‘We were under the pump in that first half, and didn’t have a huge amount of ball, but I’m very happy with the way the lads dug in defensively.
‘It wasn’t one of our better performances … but to finish the year in front of our home crowd with a win is very important to us,’ O’Mahoney said.
Australia will now look to avoid the undesirable record of the worst-performing Wallabies side since 1958 against Wales next Sunday morning (2.15am AEDT) in their last game of the spring tour.