A TEST TOO FAR; AUSTRALIA 18 IRELAND 12 Brad's Boys Go Down All Guns Blazing
Byline: JIM CLARKE IN MELBOURNE
IT was yet another close call for Ireland in the Southern Hemisphere yesterday, but once again came up short of a first win Down Under since 1979.
After slipping 18-7 behind three minutes after the break, Ireland dug deep to find another gear as their season entered its final half an hour.
Brian O'Driscoll scored a 67th minute try to put his side back in the game, but despite dominating possession in the closing stages, they just couldn't score the vital points.
What a contrast to earlier when Robbie Deans' Australia looked poised and dangerous in front of a disappointing Melbourne crowd that contained as many Irish as natives.
With their first real possession of the game, they went from rapid fire ruck to rapid fire ruck before George Smith released Lote Tuqiri near the left-hand touchline.
The giant bashed through the tackle of Rob Kearney and although he was eventually tacked, he offloaded expertly to the supporting Berrick Barnes to cross for the opening try.
Ireland remained positive. A well worked move down the right saw Jamie Heaslip and Shane Horgan almost put Shane Jennings over in the corner.
The momentum was eventually halted when Australia put the ball into touch in the opposite corner, but Donncha O'Callaghan grabbed the resulting line-out and Denis Leamy was shoved over the line by his team mates.
O'Gara added the convert to put Ireland two points in front, but despite huffing and puffing around for the next five minutes, it was the ever efficient Wallabies who struck next.
Debut winger Peter Hynes started the move with a brave run up in the right.
When the ball was recycled, Nathan Sharpe and George Smith burrowed their team into the Irish 22. From there, Matt Giteau got his hands on the ball, weaving his way past Leamy and Paul O'Connell before offloading to James Horwill to finish it off.
The Aussie out-half had no problem adding the conversion in front of the sticks and before the half hour mark, his first penalty of the game stretched the home side's lead to eight points. Just before the break, Peter Stringer opted to tap an Irish penalty 30 yards out rather than take a kick at goal.
His folly was punished as Australia defended the move well and took an eight point lead at the interval.
It looked an even worse decision right after half-time when Ireland were penalised for handling the ball on the deck close to their own line.
Giteau kicked his second penalty from an acute angle on the right-hand touchline.
Eleven points up, Australia took their foot off the pedal as the half wore on and Ireland had one golden opportunity to work their way back into the test.
Barnes lobbed a cross kick towards Stirling Mortlock on the halfway line, but Brian O'Driscoll leaped higher, bagged the ball and sprinted his way towards Australia's line.
Barnes came across to cover but bizarrely, O'Driscoll decided to pass inside to Paddy Wallace rather than go at the defender.
The Irish captain's pass was poor and a certain seven points evaporated into thin air.
O'Driscoll, however, made up for his barely 60 seconds later.
After Leamy caught a superb garryowen inside the Irish half, Kearney put Tommy Bowe away on the left. With Tuqiri closing, winger Bowe slipped the ball inside to O'Driscoll who finished the move off brilliant. …