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Australia win one of my proudest days: Ireland coach Joe Schmidt

Ireland 27 Australia 24

By Jonathan Bradley

Five minutes before half-time, it was a game Ireland should never lose. With an hour gone it was one they had no business winning.

Ireland's final Test of 2016 was one of real quality, a back-and-forth affair that the hosts came from behind to win by three points despite leading by 17 in the first half.

It followed the same pattern as Australia's last visit to Dublin - remarkably in 2014 the Wallabies also hauled back a deficit of 17 only to lose by three - but Ireland's backline finished up in a state not seen since the defeat to Italy that essentially signalled the end of Declan Kidney's reign.

That day in 2013 flanker Peter O'Mahony ended up on the wing and, with three first half injuries on Saturday, it was scrum-half Kieran Marmion forced into the role with Joey Carbery a makeshift full-back.

All in a game where Garry Ringrose was already starting out of position and Sean O'Brien was lost to the cause on the eve of kick-off.

Overcoming such adversity to become the first side since England's 2003 World Cup winners to beat the Southern Hemisphere's 'Big Three' in the same calendar year, and on the occasion of his captain Rory Best's 100th cap, left head coach Joe Schmidt beaming with pride.

"It's certainly for me, would be one of the proudest days that I've been on the periphery of a team that have shown immense character," he said.

"Kieran Marmion on the wing. His impact tackle on David Pocock to dislodge the ball forward was phenomenal.

"I think Simon Zebo said it was like a creche out there.

"He was the old guy looking after the kids running around. I think it's probably reflective of how much control he has as a dad because the kids were all over the place!

"I thought Joey Carbery did a great job. Garry Ringrose again stepped up. And it wasn't perfect but you probably can't expect perfection when those young guys step up or attempt to.

"I think we managed to get the edge because the boys up front did a great job. I thought the front-row, obviously Besty playing his 100th cap, it's incredibly special for him but I think it was probably made more special by the occasion."

Early on, despite coming in without Johnny Sexton or Robbie Henshaw, there was little sign of just how deep the men in green would have to dig in order to get the win.

Ireland dominated the possession and territory early on, even with Rob Kearney departing the scene after just 11 minutes.

A Paddy Jackson penalty belatedly gave the hosts a deserved lead and the Ulsterman was able to convert his provincial team-mate Iain Henderson's try after the lock ran a great support line off the shoulder of Keith Earls after a cute Zebo grubber.

While Andrew Trimble was lost to an ankle injury soon after, it didn't stop Ireland's forward charge and Ringrose showed some delightful footwork to scoop the ball off the deck and scoot through a gap to score.

It looked as if Ireland would take the 17-point lead into the half but Jackson misjudged a kick that went out on the full with Australia then slicing through for a brilliant try finished by Dane Haylett-Petty.

It was then that Ireland's injury misfortune reached its peak, Jared Payne's bruising November finally getting the better of him with Connacht's Marmion his replacement.

"I don't know if you've had a look back at the game but he got hit by Sam Whitelock just on the front of his leg at one stage," said Schmidt of Payne.

"He had a dead leg. He had a pretty sore, all-round, body.

"He was pretty middling coming into the game but he is an important voice for us so he worked his way through the first-half.

"He got a pretty decent whack in the ribs at one stage, which is a totally new injury, but it didn't really help his sense of well-being."

Australia quickly took advantage of the adjustments, working the ball wide for Tevita Kuridrani to score.

Jackson struck another penalty, and star full-back Israel Folau butchered one chance when taking the ball into contact with men wide, but it seemed neither would matter when substitute Sefa Naivalu ran through Carbery to give his side a first lead.

When Bernard Foley knocked over a penalty, momentum was trending only one way.

Just when it seemed as if Ireland's historic November was to end with a whimper having began with a first win over the All Blacks, from somewhere, they produced a winning score.

The forward reinforcements - Cian Healy, Peter O'Mahony and Ultan Dillane were all called upon - brought energy and power, carrying into the teeth of the Australia defence.

After making the hard yards, the ball went wide with Zebo spinning a pass to the touchline for Earls to score. Jackson added the most difficult of conversions for good measure.

Plenty of nails were bitten in a tense end to the game but Schmidt's men held on for another big win.

IRELAND: R Kearney; A Trimble, J Payne, G Ringrose, K Earls; P Jackson, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), T Furlong; I Henderson, D Toner; CJ Stander, J van der Flier, J Heaslip

REPLACEMENTS: S Cronin (for Best, 75), C Healy (for McGrath, 60), F Bealham (for Furlong, 70), U Dillane (for Henderson, 55), P O'Mahony (for Heaslip, 60), K Marmion (for Payne, 40), J Carbery (for Trimble, 30), S Zebo (for Kearney,11)

AUSTRALIA: I Folau, D Haylett-Pettty, T Kuridrani, R Hodge, H Speight, B Foley, W Genia; S Sio, S Moore, S Kepu; R Arnold, R Simmons; D Mumm, M Hooper, D Pocock.

REPLACEMENTS: T Latu (for Moore, 75), J Slipper (for Sio, 67), A Alaalatoa (for Kepu, 67), K Douglas (for Arnold, 40), S McMahon (for Simmons, 67), N Phipps, Q Cooper(for Hodge, 79), S Naivalu (for Speight,53)

Referee: Jerome Garces

Man of the match: Josh van der Flier

Match Rating:9/10

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