Ben O’Keeffe’s final whistle was a blessed relief, two hours and six minutes after the appointed kick-off time, a marathon, a contest littered with errors, that some who watched this Test match may quietly agree need never be spoken about again. Ever.
Ireland won 13-10, without Johnny Sexton, the Ireland captain picked up a calf injury while kicking prior to the warm-up, Jack Crowley started and kicked five points. But it was replacement outhalf Ross Byrne, whose nerveless, superbly struck, late penalty that handed Ireland a victory.
It was a record-equalling 12th consecutive home win and the second time that Ireland had beaten New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia in a calendar year. The win supersedes all other concerns in the immediate aftermath, but it will make for a tough watch on review. Mind you, spare a thought for Australia, who battled bravely but in vain, the pain in losing that tight tussle will be even more acute.
The victory softens the immediate post-match glare and Ireland head coach Andy Farrell was pleased with the result if not aspects of the performance. “It was never in doubt,” he smiled. “Look, it’s the bigger picture stuff for me.
“We can pull it apart and we will do, and we will learn from all sorts of aspects of the game but the bigger picture stuff for me is that Australia made it an absolute dogfight and fair play to them. I thought the way they went about their game was abrasive to say the least and certainly at the breakdown.
“They had the courage to shift the ball, like we knew they would, and they were dangerous with their outside backs. But for us to back up a few ill-disciplined bits and a few technical and tactical errors and still find a way is a hallmark of a good side.
“That’s what good sides do, they always find a way in the heat of the battle, and we are delighted in that regard with the win.”
Farrell offered some background to Sexton’s calf issue. “He went out to do some kicking before the warm-up and felt something going on with his calf and unfortunately for him, he tried his best to get right but the right choice was not to play [him] and it was great for us and in so many ways for Jack [Crowley] to get the start.
“It wasn’t just to see how Jack would handle that situation but how we handled it as a group to help Jack out and I thought the kid stood up tall.”
Completing the trifecta of Irish outhalves on the night was the pivotal moment provided by Byrne in essentially nailing the victory, having not worn the green since a 2021 Six Nations match against England and then only briefly. Ireland have played 15 Tests in the 21 months since then.
Farrell said: “It’s awesome for him. I was absolutely delighted. You know Ross’s temperament, it [the kick] was made for him, that type of situation where it [the game] was gridlocked.
“It was a tough enough kick but there was no doubt in Ross’s mind that he was ever going to do anything except go for the three points. Fair play to him, he’s waited for that chance and delivered to get us over the line.”
Caelan Doris enjoyed a brilliant game to the naked eye and it terms of statistics, 23 tackles, three turnovers, half a dozen pivotal carries in a general tour de force that deservedly won him the man of the match.
He admitted: “The game went right to the end as you saw. We were glad to get that turnover. I think we were all blowing at that stage. It was a tough, physical match throughout. Credit to them for putting it up to us. When we look back over the next couple of weeks, there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement.
“There was a lot of indiscipline there, especially in the first half. We gave them a lot of entries, but we got the result, which is the main thing. It was kind of a battle in between the 22s for most of it so not the best spectacle but the crowd were still class throughout and they gave us the extra few per cent we needed.”
In summing up the Autumn Nations series from an Irish perspective Farrell said: “A lot to do, which is great, and that’s the reality. We’ve certain aspects of our game as always that we’d love to get better at.
“We can analyse that game until the cows come home and get better, but we’ve got to keep pushing forward with all aspects of our game, we’ve to be more innovative as coaching staff. We expect to come in at the Six Nations and improve our game and push forward.”