Since Joe Schmidt took charge just over a year ago, Ireland have beaten South Africa, narrowly missed out on a first victory over New Zealand and won the Six Nations but their latest scalp may be the most hard fought yet in a remarkable game of rugby.
The hosts led 17-0 after 14 minutes thanks to tries from wings Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe but Australia replied with three of their own to square it up at halftime before flyhalf Jonathan Sexton kicked his side to victory in a bruising second period.
“We got off to a great start but allowed them back into the game with some poor defending but they’re a great side,” captain Paul O’Connell said in a pitchside interview.
“We haven’t finished games really well so to keep them out was very satisfying. It’s a brilliant win against a really good side.”
Ireland took up where they left off against the Springboks, their aggressive defence not handing the visitors an inch.
Aware of his surroundings as ever, flyhalf Sexton found space in behind following a turnover and Zebo won a race to collect his pin-point kick and dive over.
Setting the tone for what was to unfold, Australia came right back only for Bowe to intercept what was certain to be a try for the visitors and run the length of the field to put Ireland 17-0 ahead.
The home side were rampant but some hesitant defending following a Nick Phipps interception let the scrumhalf run clean through to grab a vital seven points for the Wallabies.
The Australians seized the momentum with a second, albeit controversial, try.
After debutant Henry Speight was denied in the corner, Bernard Foley collected what to most of the crowd appeared to be a forward pass, with question marks too over the grounding of the ball, but the touchdown was awarded.
Barely had half an hour passed and the game had its fifth try with some more porous tackling from the Irish but some equally slick passing from the Australians allowing the all- action Phipps in for his second effort.
Foley, who had kicked flawlessly during the tour, missed his second relatively easy conversion in a row to keep the scores level.
He then made no mistake with a penalty in front of the posts minutes later but neither did Sexton as a breathless half ended 20-20.
Even if the try count did not keep up early in the second period, the frenetic pace did with Sexton and Foley exchanging penalties in the opening 10 minutes and Irish fullback Rob Kearney hitting the post with a drop goal from near halfway on the hour.
Sexton succeeded with a penalty from the same spot two minutes later to nudge the hosts back in front.
That is how the scoreline remained, making sure there was no repeat of a year ago when Ireland could not hold on to a narrow lead against New Zealand.
Summed up by a crunching tackle by man-of-the-match O’Connell two minutes from time, Ireland’s late rearguard action helped them avenge a 32-15 defeat by the Wallabies in Dublin a year ago.
It also made it seven wins in a row heading into the defence of their Six Nations title next year.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)