And now the rubber match.
The Wallabies started red hot on Saturday night in Melbourne, but it was the Irish who ultimately prevailed in the cold and windy conditions to earn their first win on Australian soil in 39-years.
Kurtley Beale’s piercing try in the opening two-minutes of the game saw the Wallabies crack the scoreboard first, but some sloppy tackles let the Irish off the hook moments later.
The Irish ran away with the game in the end, but Game 2 was a true shootout. The scoreboard shows a 26-21 Irish win, but there were plenty of positives for the Wallabies to take away ahead of the third and final test.
Even though Australia’s loss contributed to them conceding the No. 3 ranking to Wales, they still showed signs of life on attack. The Wallabies have been nothing but encouraging against the No. 2 ranked side this series, and they now have a chance to reclaim even more respect ahead of Saturday’s grand-final like atmosphere.
So how will Australia shape up?
We’ve analysed all of the key match ups and stats, and our third test preview can be found below!
Australia Vs Ireland
Saturday 23 June, 8:00pm, Allianz Stadium
The Wallabies were always going to be hard pressed to take all three games from the reigning Six Nations champions. They certainly came close to pinching Game 2, though, and the inclusion of 21-year old lock Lukhan Tui ahead of Saturday’s decider more than boosts Australia’s chances.
Issues with selection are nothing new for the Australians, as the criticism continues to grow surrounding David Pocock and Michael Hooper in the back line. Both players looked great during Game 1, but the Irish completely demolished the Wallabies on attack in Game 2, running for 752 metres to Australia’s 554.
Tui figures to help out in that area, as Australia looked sluggish around breakdowns. Tui also could provide a bit more burst when it comes to running the ball, because aside from Beale’s opening try, the Australians failed to find the same kind of explosive athleticism they displayed during the first test.
What was also painfully obvious during the Wallabies’ loss was the absence of the aerial attack. Israel Folau looked unstoppable in the air during the first test, but despite putting up 10 kicks in Game 2, the Australians failed to reap the rewards.
The aerial shutdown is a credit to Ireland’s selection committee, who brought in the likes of Cian Healy, Niall Scannell, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray (among others) into the starting side following their opening loss.
What Australia need to do now is take a page from the Irish book. Good news came on Sunday that Adam Coleman has not fractured his cheekbone, but the Aussies have lost Will Genia to a broken arm ahead of the decider, which will force some minor changes.
Genia’s loss is huge for Australia, as the Wallabies now carry on without their most cool and composed head on the field. Genia was great at calming the Wallabies down during the games crucial moments in the first test, but a lot now lies on the shoulders of replacements Nick Phipps and Jake Gordon.
One of Phipps’ biggest challenges will be ensuring the Wallabies keep themselves out of trouble. There’s plenty of promise in this team, but ill-discipline still haunts Australia, as we saw once again last week. Following on from Beale’s opening try, the Wallabies allowed a penalty down the other end which resulted in the Irish scoring moments later.
Aside from penalties, though, the Aussies will have plenty of other fights on their hands. Folau vs. Rob Kearney is one of them, as the battle of the fullbacks got the better of the Wallabies last week.
The 32-year old Kearney finished a lot better off than Folau on the stat sheet, racking up more meters, carriers and passes. The real story was told defensively, though, as Kearney contributed with five tackles and a turnover.
There’s certainly a lot of bragging rights and worldwide respect on the line for Australia, but that’s nothing compared to what’s on the line for the Irish.
Ireland haven’t clinched a series down under since 1979, and you best believe they will throw the kitchen sink at Saturday’s final in Sydney.
Unfortunately for the Aussies, this is now a huge uphill battle. Genia’s injury means the chips are down, and since the Irish benched many of their star players during the first test, it was scary to see just dangerous they are at full-strength.
The ultimate problem for the Wallabies, as it has been for years, is inconsistency. Great one week, average the next. Saturday will feature a sell-out crowd in Sydney, but there’s hardly been anything between the two sides in the first and second tests.
Does that give Australia confidence?
Sure, but this one feels like it will be another loss littered with positives to learn from for Australia.
Back Ireland To Beat The Line (-3.5 Points) @ $1.91