Following a tense 20-16 victory for Ireland over Australia in their series finale, here are our five takeaways from the match in Sydney.
Australia missed their chance: That period from 50 to 70 minutes was all Australia and they should have carded more points than the seven they posted from that Marika Koroibete score. Bernard Foley was wayward with a penalty following that try, but they will also rue missed opportunities aplenty in the Irish 22. They also had a late attack that possibly should’ve been finished as they ultimately came up short.
CJ Stander stepped up: The Munster back-row was uncharacteristically quiet in the first two Tests, not so today. He was back to his hulking best in Sydney as he carried with real purpose, knocking Wallabies out the way at will before he was rewarded with a try on 45 minutes. He looked an angry man on Saturday and with Peter O’Mahony off injured early on, Ireland needed a leader in the pack to step up. Stander did.
Ireland are serious World Cup challengers: In Pool A alongside Scotland, Japan, Russia and the play-off winner, the Irish will fancy their chances of finishing atop the pile next year. The schedule means they’re likely to avoid hot favourites New Zealand until a possible final so, while they won’t admit to it, the draw has been kind to them. Even still Joe Schmidt’s charges have the look of serial trophy winners, with the Six Nations Grand Slam winners in the best shape possible right now to challenge for Webb Ellis glory. This series win proves it.
Big future for Tolu Latu: An injury-hit year is hopefully over for Latu as he looks to get back to the form of 2017 that saw him dominate breakdowns and the collisions. His huge tackle on Rob Kearney and then penalty win at a ruck shortly after demonstrated his brute force around the field. While he’ll feel frustrated to be wrongly penalised at the breakdown late on, this performance is another tick in his column. If he can nail his set-piece and enjoy a strong finish to the Super Rugby season with the ‘Tahs then a World Cup spot is assured.
A wonderful Test series: It ebbed and flowed throughout with Australia taking the spoils in Brisbane before Ireland responded admirably in Melbourne. Saturday’s clash in Sydney, while not a high-scoring affair, was wonderfully nerve-racking for a series decider. While the All Blacks cruised somewhat to a 3-0 win over the French, South Africa wrapped up their series last week against England, these games between Australia and Ireland have captivated viewers from minute one to 240. Roll on Ireland facing New Zealand in November at the Aviva Stadium.