The Wallabies’ June Series is going to a deciding third Test, and Australia will likely have to try and win the series without Will Genia in Sydney, after a 26-21 loss in Melbourne.
Australia was starved of the ball in the second Test, and the weight of a lopsided possession ratio and a 15-12 penalty count ultimately proved too much for a Wallabies side that didn’t look as urgent or effective, as they had in Brisbane, going down to Ireland in Australia for the first time since 1979.
An injury to Genia in the 27th minute and lock Adam Coleman in the 43rd compounded the pain for Australia, as they ready themselves for a series-deciding conclusion.
A no-look Bernard Foley pass put Kurtley Beale through a gap just 90 seconds in, with the Aussie centre leaving Ireland skipper Peter O’Mahony in his wake, but that was a rare chance for Australia in open play.
The Wallabies were left with an uphill battle in the sixth minute after Marika Koroibete was binned for a lifting tackle on fullback Rob Kearney, and it took Irish winger Andrew Conway just a minute to capitalise on the extra man to score in Koroibete’s corner.
Their deficiency was punished again in a defensive scrum, with Michael Hooper defending in the backline, and the Wallabies giving up a penalty, for Johnny Sexton to give Ireland the lead in the 13th minute.
The Irish looked back to some of their most confident rugby and the Wallabies’ ill-discipline allowed Ireland to take control, with five penalties to zero by the 23-minute mark.
Sexton had no issue slotting his three opportunities at the posts to make the Wallabies pay for their mistakes, turning a seven-point deficit to a nine-point lead in 23 minutes.
Australia’s defence was not at the level it was in Brisbane, with Ireland making ground they simply couldn’t seven days ago, and their own defence wearing the Wallabies down.
The Wallabies finally won some pay in the breakdown in the 25th minute, giving them a much-needed reprieve, and they turned that pressure into a pushover penalty try, and starting Ireland loosehead Cian Healy was sitting on the sideline.
Some scrambling Wallabies defence stopped Ireland from being able to score, but the Aussies couldn’t change the scoreline in Healy’s absence.
Ireland’s improvement was expected in Melbourne and they showed they had certainly learned plenty from the opening Test, stopping Israel Folau in kick chase, and their strengths were still intact from Brisbane, at set piece especially.
It looked as if Ireland had scored in the 51st minute, but a multi-phase effort ended in a scrum and the Wallabies were forced to defend once again, with just a Keith Earls fumble over the line preventing Ireland scoring.
They had no such issue in the next play, with Tadhg Furlong crashing over in the 54th minute, to stretch their lead to nine points.
Ireland captain O’Mahony and his backrow mates took a step up in Melbourne, where it seemed there might not have been the crackdown on the breakdown that was seen at Suncorp.
Another Sexton penalty left the Wallabies 12 points down with 14 minutes to go and Foley was narrowly avoided another yellow for a deliberate knock on, but the Wallabies couldn’t find enough space or ball to narrow the gap.
Australia mounted another challenge, with Taniela Tupou making an impact in his half hour on the field, but the Ireland defence were impenetrable, before a deliberate knock on in a ruck gave the Wallabies a one-man advantage, and a slim sniff of a comeback.
It was Tupou who brought some joy in that final five minute, with a pick and go try, his first for the Wallabies, narrowing the margin to just one try, and that was where it was left.
The Wallabies take on Ireland in Sydney next Saturday, in a series decider.
Tries: Beale, penalty, Tupou
Cons: Foley 2
Yellow Card: Koroibete (6’)
Tries: Conway, Furlong
Cons: Sexton 2
Pens: Sexton 4
Yellow Cards: Healy (27'), McGrath (76')