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Ireland must find the spark to reignite series after bruising loss

Australia 18 Ireland 9

By Ruaidhri O’Connor

After a week in Surfer's Paradise, Ireland are back in the purgatory of a darkened hotel conference room this morning where Joe Schmidt will forensically and ruthlessly pick apart the flaws in his team's performance in Brisbane.

A first loss in 13 internationals won't sit well with the head coach who lamented "skinny margins" in the aftermath of a difficult night's work.

Top of the agenda will be the team's attacking accuracy and breakdown work after a frustrating night that turned on a dominant third quarter that reaped just three points.

During the Six Nations, visits to the 22 were turned into points but at Suncorp Stadium Ireland were either forced to settle for a penalty or nothing at all. Australia's defensive aggression forced errors, but a host of big game players were guilty of uncharacteristic errors during a pulsating Test match.

Rob Kearney got lost under a couple of costly high balls, Conor Murray and Jacob Stockdale kicked dead, Keith Earls tried to chip over Israel Folau's head and Johnny Sexton missed touch with a penalty, and there was more to digest on the review.

Had CJ Stander's try been awarded it might have been a different scenario but, while Schmidt was unhappy with the communication between the referee and the television match official (TMO), he may also find fault in his No 8's solo charge left when he had four support runners on his right shoulder.

Australia had less possession, but they did more with it in attack and Ireland lacked the class of the outstanding Kurtley Beale and the athletic prowess of Folau in attack.

The hosts' target was to match Ireland's work-rate and they did just that, potentially exposing a fatal flaw in the Schmidt game-plan. When relentless endeavour isn't enough, where's the spark?

With the Grand Slam in the bag, Schmidt is in bonus territory and his team selection showed that he was willing to risk the result for the future development of his team.

Yet, as Joey Carbery made way for Sexton the team led 9-8 and you sensed the experienced out-half would guide them home. It didn't happen; instead Australia ramped up the pace and a tiring Ireland effort faded.

After a year of victories, the Irish camp find themselves in unusual territory in Melbourne. At 1-0 down, the series is on the line this week and the picture for the week ahead is very clear.

"It's not probably the clarity I was looking for," a disappointed Schmidt said.

"It is tough mentally to get back up now because you are under pressure.

"The Wallabies will have a spring in their step. They know what they did tonight that caused us problems and put us under pressure, but they'll also know that there were a few times that we opened them up and caused them a few problems.

"We've just got to make sure that we score in behind that.

"Making line breaks and potentially being held up over the line or kicking balls out on the full when we're in behind them, or losing the ball forward or not clearing it from the ruck… if we can amend some of that stuff then hopefully we can apply a little more pressure and take the spring out of their step a little bit because when they've got a spring in their step they've got some athleticism that can be very hard to contain.

"So it's probably not the result we'll look at, it's those elements of the performance that we can try to do something about because the result at the end of the day is whatever it ends up being.

"Hopefully we'll exorcise a few frustrations as well that came out of today so that by Tuesday we'll turn around and we'll be looking forward rather than back."

Schmidt arrived in Australia with a selection plan and says the 18-9 loss won't derail his intentions.

Earls' suspected concussion may rule him out of the second Test, but the Munster man may have been scheduled for rest ­anyway. Certainly, the return of Dan Leavy and Garry Ringrose will add edge to two different areas of the team.

The openside's drive and physical edge was sorely missed, while the centre's deft touches and defensive judgement were also a loss.

Tadhg Beirne could also feature as the coach shakes things up, while starting Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong and Sexton will add some oomph.

Winning the series is a target, but the long-term squad development is also key at the end of a long campaign.

"Dan could have played tonight, we've been nursing him along a little bit," Schmidt said.

"There's a couple of guys, like Tadhg Beirne, who's just had massive min­utes. There's a few guys who are probably part of a longer-term plan through the tour.

"If we don't take this opportunity I just don't think we get another one.

"When we get round to the November series there's a couple of really big games for us and then you don't dis­respect the Six Nations.

"We'll have Dan available and Tadhg and a few other guys, so we'll have a look how guys come through and make some decisions."

There will be no panic and the toys will remain in the pram, yet a second defeat in seven days would sour this phenomenal season for the coach and could undermine some of the belief among the players at a crucial point in their World Cup development.

This tour just got very interesting.

Australia: I Folau; D Haylett-Petty (R Hodge 63), S Kerevi, K Beale, M Koroibete; B Foley, W Genia (N Phipps 75); S Sio (T Robertson 63), B Paenga-Amosa (T Latu 55), S Kepu (T Tupou 55); I Rodda (R Simmons 55), A Coleman; D Pocock (L Tui 74), M Hooper (capt), C Timu (P Samu 49-59, 63).

Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls (J Larmour 25), R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Carbery (57), C Murray (K Marmion 78); J McGrath (C Healy 48), R Herring (S Cronin 57), John Ryan (T Furlong 48); I Henderson (Q Roux 65), James Ryan; P O'Mahony (capt (J Conan 68), J Murphy, CJ Stander.

Referee: M van der Westhuizen (S Africa).

Predicted team for second Test: R Kearney; A Conway, G Rin­grose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray, C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong; I Henderson, J Ryan; T Beirne, D Leavy, CJ Stander.

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