Summer Review: Ireland

Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony lift the Lansdowne Cup 23/6/2018
It seems not much can stop the Six Nations Grand Slam champions this season as they achieved more glory down under.

It seems not much can stop the Six Nations Grand Slam champions this season as they achieved more glory down under.

Ireland’s valiant and dogged comeback to win their first series on Australian soil since 1979 after a shaky start to the tour will live long in the memories of rugby fans.

Capping off a brilliant year, Ireland’s tour will fill Joe Schmidt with confidence when the autumn approaches and he prepares his side to defend their Six Nations title next season.

REALITY CHECK After an unbeaten Six Nations campaign where Ireland surged past England on the final day to clinch the Grand Slam title, they travelled to the other side of the world with a spring in their step and 12 consecutive victories.

However, the Australians promptly pulled the plug on the party.

Michael Cheika’s men were in no mood to let the Irish joy continue, with a try from Bernard Foley in the first half and another from David Pocock in the second giving the hosts a comfortable 18-9 win in Brisbane.

Jonathan Sexton started on the bench for the first time since 2011 and, despite his youthful replacement Joey Carbery scoring all of the Irish points, the team missed their talismanic fly-half.

Head coach Joe Schmidt said: “What you deserve is whatever the result is at the end of the day and you can’t change that.

“There was a few missed opportunities for us, but they had a few as well, and that suggests that it will be pretty close again next week.”

THE IRISH FIGHT BACK As Schmidt predicted, it was mightily close when the two teams met in Melbourne.

It was the story of the returning heroes in the second Test as Sexton reappeared in the starting line-up to pull the strings and Tadhg Furlong re-joined the pack, and the two proved the difference.

It was the worst start to the game that Ireland could have hoped for, as Kurtley Beale went over in the first minute to show Australia’s merciless intent.

However, Ireland responded well, with Andrew Conway touching down just five minutes after to set the resilient tone for the tour.

After a penalty try was awarded against Ireland, heads could have easily dropped, but they demonstrated their dogged spirit to strike back through Furlong after half time.

The wise head of Sexton kept the Wallabies at bay, kicking another penalty to haul Ireland over the line as they held their nerve for the victory, despite Taniela Tupou scoring with three minutes left.

THE PERFECT ENDING So it was all down to one final showdown in Sydney to decide the series.

Schmidt made five changes to the starting line-up, but had to make another the day before the Test as hooker Sean Cronin was ruled out to injury.

The depth in Ireland’s squad arguably won them the series though, as Niall Scannell came in and proved just as effective in the front row.

It was a tense start in the series-decider, with Foley matching Sexton punch for punch with three penalties each, before the latter slotted one on the stroke of half time to give Ireland the edge at the break.

The character shown by Ireland in the second half effectively secured the series, as CJ Stander went over from a driving maul just four minutes after the break and Ireland defended wave after wave of Wallabies attack to hang on for a dramatic victory.

As the Grand Slam champions became Lansdowne Trophy winners too, Schmidt paid tribute to the incredible effort of his whole squad.

Schmidt said: “It’s a credit to the players, they dug in just enough. I thought Tadhg Beirne came off the bench really well, I thought Jack Conan did well.

“I think it’s great when guys put their hand up because it keeps the pressure on the other guys and at the same time they grow a little bit because they understand what it’s going to take.

“It’s a testament to the depth in some of the positions we have that guys can step up and do a good job – I thought Niall Scannell and Rob Herring came in well too.

“It’s part of a process that we’d like to streamline, if we lose someone then someone else can step up. It’s been a fantastic series, it’s great for players, they enjoy celebrating those.”