Flashback: Ireland take down Australia

Date published: September 14 2016

In the latest edition of our series, we look back at this week in history and pick out a key moment from rugby’s archives.

For this edition we’re going back to 2011, and a result that tore up the expected quarter-finals at that year’s Rugby World Cup.

September 17, 2011

With respect to Italy, the USA and Russia, all eyes were on the pivotal meeting in Pool C between Australia and Ireland to see who would advance to the quarter-finals as group winners.

Six days beforehand Ireland had laboured their way through a frankly unimpressive 22-10 victory over the USA, which only served to confirmed their status as underdogs at Eden Park.

The Wallabies hadn’t been that great either however in their opener against Italy, stepping on the gas in the second half, but all the signs still pointed to a familiar outcome which never happened.

There were no tries, but that didn’t mean there was no drama. Irish victories over Australia after all were rare, with only two in the previous 20 matches going back to 1981.

Ireland’s pack under the rain in Auckland did a job over the Wallabies, plain and simple, through both their scrum but also the relentless use of the choke tackle to prevent Australia’s attack from gaining any momentum whatsoever.

James O’Connor opening the scoring for the Wallabies with a penalty with Jonathan Sexton soon equalising, before the Ireland fly-half put his team into the lead with a drop goal soon after on 16 minutes.

O’Connor’s second penalty tied it up at 6-6, the same scoreline by half-time, as Ireland’s choke tackle continued to frustrate Australia.

Big tackles, big scrummaging and a relentless pursuit of Wallaby number ten Quade Cooper allowed Ireland to minimalise the opposition’s momentum.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 17: Tommy Bowe of Ireland charges forward during the IRB 2011 Rugby World Cup Pool C match between Australia and Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – SEPTEMBER 17: Tommy Bowe of Ireland charges forward during the IRB 2011 Rugby World Cup Pool C match between Australia and Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand.


With Sexton’s afternoon done on came Conor Murray and Ronan O’Gara to try and close the game out, veteran fly-half O’Gara knocking over a penalty for a 12-6 lead on 62 minutes after another scrum win from an on-fire Mike Ross.

Controlling territory through O’Gara’s boot and a solid platform at the lineout from Paul O’Connell, Ireland gave themselves a crucial lead of more than a converted try after two monster scrums short of the Australian line, allowing O’Gara to step up again with a chip shot to make it 15-6.

Australia had time but little of it, hounding the Irish line looking for a converted try and winning scrum penalties of their own following the departure of Ross before Tommy Bowe pounced, intercepting a pass and sprinting the length of the field only to be tackled short of the line into touch by O’Connor.

The Wallabies never got close to the Irish line again, Cian Healy fittingly turning the ball over after an excellent game to win a penalty that settled the match.

Considering their record against Australia, and the fact that the Wallabies were the Tri-Nations champions, this was some upset.

Ireland went on to top Pool C but were knocked out in the quarter-finals by an in-form Wales side. Australia meanwhile pipped Pool D winners South Africa before they lost to eventual winners and hosts New Zealand in the semi-final.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Pens: Sexton 2, O’Gara 2
Drop Goal: Sexton

For Australia:
Pens: O’Connor 2

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Anthony Fainga’a, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Ben McCalman, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Dan Vickerman, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Wycliff Palu, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Drew Mitchell

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O’Driscoll (c), 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O’Connell, 5 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Donnacha Ryan, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Conor Murray, 21 Ronan O’Gara, 22 Andrew Trimble

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)