Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Ireland suffer painful night against Wallabies in Aviva Stadium horror show

Held up: Tommy Bowe feels the force of a tackle  from Australia's Will Genia
Held up: Tommy Bowe feels the force of a tackle from Australia's Will Genia

The sight of an eight-man Irish scrum being driven back – on their own feed – by seven Australians before coughing up a penalty in the dying moments was Saturday night's Aviva Stadium horror show in microcosm.

The Wallabies were leading 32-15 so an Ireland score from that scrum-five would not have affected the outcome. But what mattered is that it amounted to humiliation.

Having lost so comprehensively to the Wallabies, whose 32-points tally included four unanswered tries, it promises to be a painful video session at Carton House to which the Irish return tonight to begin work on attempting to topple New Zealand on Sunday.

One would imagine that the last thing those players want right now is a pairing against the world's best six days from now.

Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks in 27 attempts; lost 26, drawn one is their record and on the strength of Saturday night's evidence, there is little cause for optimism that this duck is about to be broken. The much more likely scenario is that the All Blacks will become the first team in the professional era to go through a year with a 100% record. To date this year they have swept all before them; Saturday's 30-22 victory over England at Twickenham was their 13th win in 13 Tests in 2013.

In the wake of a wretched display against fourth-ranked Australia, one wonders where Ireland might begin to start trying to halt the coming juggernaut? Both set-pieces malfunctioned against the Wallabies. The anticipated scrum dominance never materialised and line-out was another problem area. They were outplayed in the loose, too.

Their out-of-hand kicking was suicidal. A week earlier they got away with similar laxity against Samoa. But against Australia, they got what they deserved. Whereas the predictable Samoans tried and failed just to run over Ireland, the much more skillful Australians passed their way round and through them.

The most galling aspect of this defeat was that Ireland's demise was as much down to their own failings as to their guests' ingenuity. In turn Eoin Reddan, Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney – all Joe Schmidt-tutored Leinster back-line players of whom one was entitled to expect better – were guilty of kicking to the visitors' outstanding back three.

In the countdown to this match, Ireland had talked at length about the importance of not giving cheap ball to powerfully-built and highly-skilled full-back Israel Folau or his wing partners Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nick Cummins. Nevertheless they proceeded to do just that.

Ireland's night did not go well from the outset. Awarded two early penalties, out-half Jonny Sexton failed to find touch with the first. And although his second set up a line-out between Australia's 10 and 22-metre lines, Devin Toner lost control of a ball he had won, resulting in it being pinched.

Sports journalist Niall Crozier
Sports journalist Niall Crozier

Indiscipline was the Wallabies' Achilles heel, with Ireland's 15 points coming in the form of penalties of which Sexton kicked four from five in the first half, with his interval replacement Ian Madigan getting the last of them in the 57th minute.

That same weakness in the Australians' game saw open-side Michael Hooper – the man of the match – pick up the tab in the form of a yellow card after 32 minutes following a warning to captain Ben Mowen by New Zealand referee Chris Pollock that he had seen as many indiscretions as he was prepared to tolerate.

It was 15-6 when Hooper – scorer of his side's second try which had made it 15-3 after 24 minutes – exited for a period of reflection, two Sexton penalties having been Ireland's response to that touchdown plus an earlier goal by Quade Cooper who had, in addition, converted a 16th minute Cummins try. On each occasion, Ireland were carved open down their right side.

Two more Sexton penalties during Hooper's absence meant Ireland had clawed their way back from a 15-3 deficit to go in just three points short of parity at half-time. At that moment, it appeared the pendulum had swung in their favour and that the game was there to be won.

But a recurrence of his hamstring problem meant Sexton did not re-appear. Instead Madigan took over and before he had a chance to bed himself in, Ireland had conceded another 10 points, all of them bagged by Cooper who scored and converted a 47th minute try followed by a 50th minute penalty.

Madigan's three-pointer, which made it 25-15 seven minutes later, was like putting an Elastoplast on a broken thumb, particularly as the magnificent Hooper helped himself to a second try to which Cooper added the extras, thereby creating a 17-point differential with 12 minutes remaining.

The victors blotted their copybook five minutes later when centre Tevita Kuridrani needlessly got himself dismissed when he lifted and then dropped Peter O'Mahony. Dangerous play, straight red.

Were there any pluses from an Irish perspective? Ulster centre Luke Marshall did well, albeit that he has accepted liability for Copper's try. And the final 10 minutes of the first half during which Ireland scored nine points amounted to a good spell. But that, alas, was about it.