Following a 13-10 win for Ireland over Australia in their Autumn Nations Series fixture, here’s our five takeaways from the match at the Aviva Stadium.
Not a game to write home about
That it wasn’t. The final game of those bumper full days in the Autumn Nations Series this month had been gripping… until now. This was a stop-start affair that was error-strewn and below-par in terms of quality from both sides and one sympathised for those watching in Dublin.
The Wallabies managed to spoil Ireland’s lethal maul while the hosts’ defence, coupled by mistakes from the visitors, stopped Australia from launching any meaningful attacks with ball in hand. Put simply, it was a slugfest for the vast majority of the contest and was disappointing.
Credit to both side’s defences but these two teams are better than 3-0 after 54 minutes and 3-3 on 65 minutes and have to be moving forward if they are to be genuine Rugby World Cup contenders. Ireland might be ranked as the world’s number one side but that didn’t show tonight.
A Sexton-less Ireland a different team
That was a struggle for Andy Farrell’s men, who were under pressure for a lot of that game but just about managed to see it through. Without their main playmaker on the field, the hosts lacked ideas and were fortunate to come away with a victory. His replacement, Jack Crowley, was not poor by any means and looked assured on his first start, but there is no doubt that Johnny Sexton is the key component of this backline.
No doubt the lateness of the change played a part in a disjointed display but, equally, Farrell has yet to find someone that can adequately replace Sexton. Crowley showed promise, however, and is very much worth persisting with, but how much game time will he get prior to next year’s Rugby World Cup? What happens if Sexton is unavailable is an issue which has plagued Ireland for years and it could prove costly in 2023.
Australia made to pay for missed opportunities
Dave Rennie’s men controlled more than enough of that match to win the game, and it would have been thoroughly deserved, but they failed to take their chances. Credit must go to Ireland’s stubborn defence, who won turnovers at key times, but the Wallabies only have themselves to blame. The opening stages were a case in point when Nic White’s try was ruled out for a neck roll in a previous ruck.
That type of ill-discipline has plagued Australia all season, contributing significantly to what has been a pretty abject campaign. There were some positives for the Wallabies in Dublin, with their forwards standing up well and the likes of Jordan Petaia and Mark Nawaqanitawase impressing behind the scrum, but they need results.
Which leads onto…
A results business
It’s amazing how the outcome changes the perception. For the Wallabies, they have lost three in a row after beating Scotland, going down to France, Italy and now Ireland, but they could – and perhaps should – have won them all. With the exception of the defeat to the Azzurri, Australia have actually been pretty good at times and at least three victories out of their four tour games so far would not have been undeserved.
In fact, it’s an injustice they find themselves in such a position. Considering the injuries they have endured this season, the Wallabies have battled hard in the northern hemisphere with very little to show for it.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) November 19, 2022
As for Ireland, everything continues to look rosy but, with the exception of their performance against South Africa, it’s been a pretty mediocre Autumn Nations Series campaign. Farrell was very unhappy with the display against Fiji and he didn’t get the response he was looking for against Australia on Saturday. They are still in a very good place but there is plenty for the world number one team to work on.
Pressure continues to increase on Dave Rennie
The Wallabies head coach went into the end-of-year Tests with just a 38 per cent win record and, well, that has not improved over the course of the past four weeks. Supporters are unimpressed with what they are seeing, despite running the top two sides in the world close, and Rennie needs a result badly.
On the weekend’s evidence, that should come at Wales next Saturday, with Wayne Pivac’s men in a worse position than Australia at the moment, but pressure can do funny things to players and coaches. A lot will be on the line in Cardiff and we can already see it being a tight and tense encounter as both sides try desperately to claim a priceless victory. It may come to a point where the winning head coach of that encounter keeps their job. A big call so close to the World Cup perhaps, but both the Welsh Rugby Union and Rugby Australia will be concerned by their respective teams’ form in 2022.