Australia ensured Ireland return home from their tour winless, but yesterday's victory in front of 45,498 came after an unpolished and ill-disciplined performance. The Australians ran in two tries with scrum-half Luke Burgess scoring an intercept try and out-half Quade Cooper crossing over after a skilful individual run on the stroke of half-time. The Irish were held scoreless in the second period and despite their best efforts were unable to grab a try in the contest, all 15 of their points coming from the boot of Jonathan Sexton.
Both sides had hinted at an attacking approach to the game, but it was not until late in the second half that either backline was able to find real space. For the Australians, skipper Rocky Elsom was typically strong but Drew Mitchell and Kurtley Beale missed an opportunity to impress in the backs.
After trailing for the majority of the first half, the Wallabies snatched a 16-15 lead going into the break, courtesy of Cooper's attacking flair. The Queensland Reds star created something from nothing as he danced his way through an invisible gap well after the siren.
Earlier, the Australians had first use of the ball, but it was the Irish who had first points on the board when Sexton sunk a penalty in the second minute, after Cooper was judged offside. The chance to level the scores came just minutes later for the Aussies, but after a scratchy performance with the boot against England last weekend it appeared Matt Giteau's radar was still out.
An intercept from Rob Horne was called back for a knock-on but from the scrum Luke Burgess made it second time lucky with an intercept of his own to run in the first try of the match and give the Wallabies their lead for the first time. However the home side were forced to shuffle their backline after the break, sending Kurtley Beale to full-back, Adam Ashley-Cooper to centre and James O'Connor to the wing, after their starting outside centre Rob Horne was forced out with a gluteal strain.
Unfortunately for Beale, his first significant contribution for the Australians was not a good one; with space out wide and the tryline almost within reach, the Waratahs player opted to send in a grubber that steamed over the backline. Play was eventually called back and Giteau registered his first successful kick of the match to give the Wallabies first blood in the second half.
As the contest began to open up for the first time, the Wallaby backline showed signs of clicking into gear but, once again, a penalty conceded by the Irish close to the line ensured the points continued to accumulate in threes. The Australians continued to attack in the late stages of the second half, but regular handling mistakes stopped them from increasing the lead.
Afterwards Declan Kidney admitted his side had cost themselves the game. "We made too many errors, especially when we were attacking, and that was frustrating. We defended stoutly but that left us short of energy at the end when we were trying to claw something back – in the end the result probably flattered us. But there is now more competition for places and whoever plays well next season will get to wear the shirt. A lot of the possession they enjoyed was under our control as we gave them back the ball and, as a result, we were on the defensive a lot."
Brian O'Driscoll echoed similar sentiments and added many of the Irish players were on a learning curve. "We had a number of players earning their first caps and it was all good experience – they will take a lot out of it. We haven't managed any victories on this tour and of course that is what you are judged on. We wanted to put a bit of pride back into our defensive game as we let ourselves down against New Zealand. Although we had a couple of lapses against Australia, we were fairly solid. But now the lads will now enjoy four or five weeks of holidays and try to freshen up for next year."
As for positives, out-half Jonathan Sexton was successful with each of his penalty attempts, having struggled to find his kicking form during the Six Nations. "It was back to the drawing board a bit after that but I took some good advice and now I'm kicking better than ever."
Australia J O'Connor; D Mitchell, R Horne, M Giteau, A Ashley-Cooper; Q Cooper, L Burgess; B Daley, S Faingaa, S Ma'afu; D Mumm, M Chisholm; R Elsom, D Pocock, R Brown Subs K Beale for Horne, h-t; J Slipper for Daley, 54 mins
Ireland R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll, P Wallace, A Trimble; J Sexton, T O'Leary; C Healy, S Cronin, T Buckley; D O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll; N Ronan, S Jennings, C Henry Subs T Court for Buckley, h-t; G Murphy for Kearney, 53 mins; D Tuohy for O'Callaghan, 53-54 mins; R Ruddock for Henry, 69 mins; Tuohy for O'Driscoll, 70 mins; D Varley for Cronin, 70 mins
Referee B Lawrence (New Zealand)