The Wallabies are on the brink of their worst European tour in almost a decade after falling 26-23 to in-form Ireland in Dublin.
But coach Michael Cheika will head into next week’s tour finale against England buoyed but what he considered a much-improved Australian performance at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
Third-ranked Ireland notched their seventh straight Test victory, claiming a second major Southern Hemisphere scalp after beating South Africa a fortnight ago.
But coach Joe Schmidt wasn’t able to celebrate the win, with the New Zealander taken to hospital after the match due to a bout of appendicitis.
The Wallabies fought back from trailing 17-0 after just 15 minutes to be level at halftime but couldn’t go on with it, despite scoring three tries to Ireland’s two.
Controversial utility Kurtley Beale made his return off the bench, halfback Nick Phipps scored a double and recalled centre Matt Toomua impressed, while big winger Henry Speight had a solid Test debut.
But Australia’s failure to bounce back from last week’s 29-26 loss to France in Paris means they’ll head to Twickenham facing the prospect of losing three European tour matches for the first time since 2005.
Cheika was gutted to lose but encouraged by signs the team was starting to embrace his new game plan, and felt his backs dealt well with repeated aerial assaults from Ireland’s kickers.
“Last week we got close and probably would have been lucky if we won but this week we got close and were probably unlucky not to win to be honest,” Cheika said.
“Our work rate was very good and our physicality was right up there.
“All in all, I thought it was a really improved performance from the week before.
“We showed a lot of resilience, a lot of toughness to get back in that game.
“Away from home it would have been easy to pack up but we came back well and I’m really sad about losing.”