Australia's Grand Slam aspirations were foiled by a last-minute Brian O'Driscoll try to seal a 20-20 draw in Dublin on Sunday.
The Wallabies stepped up a gear from their defeat of England last week and delivered by some distance their most polished performance of the year, capped by a fine second-half try from Rocky Elsom, returning to Dublin where he was so revered earlier this year.
He could have been the villain of the piece, but as he has done so often, Brian O'Driscoll accelerated through a glaring gap in the final minute and steamed under the posts to cap his 100th Test with another crucial try for Ireland.
The stage had been set for such a finale before the game, but Australia threatened to ruin the party for long periods.
The Wallabies showed many aspects of lessons having been learned from their difficult Tri-Nations series. Disturbingly for Ireland, they looked a yard faster for much of the match, even though Ireland produced the stirring fightback in the final ten minutes.
Most disturbing of all for the Irish was the manner in which Australia's scrum dismantled the Irish eight. John Hayes had a horrible day. Three times in the second half, the Wallaby eight first got the shove on, then splintered the Irish eight. Once on Ireland's own ball. Both Scotland and Wales should have made a note of that in bold.
Both sides kept the game tight, but Australia managed that much better. There were fewer errors with hand and especially boot. Quade Cooper, inconsistent for the Reds but undoubtedly talented, looked like he'd been playing Test rugby for years, so intelligent was his positioning and kicking.
Ireland did not fare so well. Too many kicks were too long, or too central, or too high... there was always a margin of error, rarely a perfect delivery. On the rare occasions they did make a clean break or a player ran a threatening angle, the support was conspicuous by its absence and Ireland gave away too many penalties on attack.
But then Ireland were under pressure right from the 128th second, when Drew Mitchell opened the scoring. Ronan O'Gara took the ball too flat and zipped a pass out to O'Driscoll, whose attempt to drift onto the ball meant he was not forward enough to catch it. Mitchell scooped it up and made the 30m to the line with something to spare. After three minutes, his day could only get better. It did.
Thereafter, things got cagey. Jonathan Kaplan set out his stall to be tight at the breakdowns, challenging the teams to respond imaginatively and let momentum build, but both sides continued to fret over opening the ball and opted to kick rather than let possession fall foul of Kaplan's shrill whistle. A shame - had the teams bought into it, we could have had a cracker.
As it was, it came in fits and starts. Both Matt Giteau and Elsom made individual line-breaks, Giteau's nearly to the line, but neither one was capitalised on properly - in Giteau's case, a glaring lack of support.
O'Gara opted for an unorthodox chip penalty for Tommy Bowe to run onto in the corner, but the Ospreys winger couldn't get onto the end of it under pressure from Digby Ioane. Luke Fitzgerald was released down the left, but the Australian cover smothered any chance of an offload and the move petered out.
By half-time, Australia thus led 10-6, with Giteau landing one penalty to O'Gara's two as the scoring additions to Mitchell's try.
The second half was better as a spectacle, much better for Australia. The forwards cured their line-out woes of the first half - where they had lost four out of eight - and found a real collective head of steam, playing both the referee and the fringes far far better than Ireland. Giteau missed one penalty, but landed his second after 55 minutes, by which point Australia had had nearly 70 per cent of the second-half territory and possession.
Then Ireland pulled a try back. Cian Healy, who had not had the best of debuts in the tight, was at least rampant in the loose. He won the restart and bullocked into the Australian 22. Eight close phases followed, culminating in a simple two pass move for Bowe who scored by the posts.
Tied at thirteen, Australia simply carried on without a blip. Healy once again bustled forward, but the ball was turned over and the Wallabies gloriously moved the ball from side to side before Elsom powered into the corner. Giteau's touchline conversion looked to be a hammer blow.
But Ireland responded. Australia's huge effort left the reserve tanks empty and the siege Ireland laid to Australia's half in the final ten had an air of inevitability about it. Two penalties in the corner forced Kaplan to issue a team warning to the men in gold, and from the next phase, Tommy Bowe was held up in the corner. A five-metre scrum, solid this time, and then Tomas O'Leary crabbed while delaying his pass to find the right one of the three runners. Australia's two centres parted like curtains and through the gap steamed O'Drsicoll, Ireland's hero once again.
Man of the match: Big kudos must go to the Wallaby front row of Alexander, Moore and Robinson for their scrumming, while Rocky Elsom delivered a fine captain's display. Quade Cooper started very well, but faded a little. BOD was as good as ever and Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald - before the latter went off injured - were both constant threats. But running those few yards further than anyone was David Pocock, who may well have usurped George Smith for keeps with his display.
Moment of the match: In his hundredth Test, a last gasp-try to save his team's bacon from BOD. A Hollywood finale.
Villain of the match: Wycliff Palu was yellow-carded for an alleged dangerous tackle, but replays bore out Palu's version of events. No award.
For Ireland:Tries: Bowe, O'Driscoll
Cons: O'Gara 2
Pens: O'Gara 2
Tries: Mitchell, Elsom
Cons: Giteau 2
Pens: Giteau 2
Yellow card: Palu, 30, dangerous tackle
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (c), 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Leo Cullen, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Jonathan Sexton, 22 Keith Earls.
Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Peter Hynes, 13 Digby Ioane, 12 Quade Cooper, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Will Genia, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (c), 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 James Horwill, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota Nau, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Dean Mumm, 19 George Smith, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Ryan Cross, 22 James O'Connor.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)