On a warm autumn day down under on the Gold Coast the Wallabies standoff stated his intent for the day with a converted penalty at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane three minutes into the match. The opponents for the day, Ireland, number two in the word had just rolled into town for the start of a three-match series against Australian and their coach Michael Cheika. A man who has history with Ireland having won the first of the Heineken Cups in 2009, when Johnny Sexton was just a boy. On this occasion it was a close season tour where there was nothing at stake. But all to play for at the same time.
From the get go Ireland looked jetlagged. Perhaps jet skiing and the relaxed build up dindt help. Maybe even caught them unawares. But that would understate that Australians came to do business and started the game at pace and finished it the same way. Not unlike New Zealand’s game plan, whom the Australians beat last year. Playing on the front foot for the full eighty, changing the line of attach constantly and recycling the ball very at speed. Ireland unable to reset themselves like they became accustomed in the 6 Nations. Will Genia an irritant at the base of the scrum.
Ireland under Joe Schmidt cannot be described as playing a fast game, rather the opposite. Slow and deliberate and something more akin to chess as his teams work towards set plays and at the same time drain the opposition into submission. But Cheika was ready for this and his playbook seemed to be back with the players who were empowered to play what was in front of them. His team not overo committing at the breakdown unless it was necessary and ways ready to break wide at every chance. Like South Africa showed a few hours later in Johannesburg against England the southern hemisphere has moved the game forward yet again.
In fact, Ireland and England looked very deliberate, very slow and over engineered. Not unlike France against the All Blacks. Although the visitors paying a heavy price for a yellow cared that wasn’t and allowing home side at Eden Park a numeric advantage which cost them vital scores match. For Joe Schmidt though it was a wakeup call that the Leinster and Irish way- almost rugby league style – can be found wanting when sides seek to play it out wide and at speed
In fact, reminiscent of that 2015 World Cup defeat to Argentina that yanked Irelands plans for world dominance. Albeit it was a weakened side against Australia and the team were not fully acclimatised. With flanker David Pocock back for the Wallabies and Will Genua on fire at the base of the scrum Australia were incessantly on the attack. Then any time there were clearance kicks the majestic Israel Folau was returning them with interest and under the high ball he made Rob Kearney look every bit of his age at fullback. All ably marshalled by the irrepressible captain, Michael Hooper at wing forward.
Admittedly the referee had an influence on the game. However, it affected both sides as Australia saw two penalties for Pocock that weren’t as well as a possible yellow card that was not given against Ireland. But perhaps it was try that was not given to CJ Stander that was the biggest complaint from the Irish management,
"That first-half was one of the quickest I've played in my career," Captain Peter O’Mahony said, "Every time I come up against Australia the intensity and physicality is second to none
"There wasn't a lot of people talking about the Australian physicality before the game, but you saw how physical they were in the first 10, 15 minutes and they carried it through the game.
"Certainly, the intensity and physicality is always up there with a team of the quality that the Wallabies have." O’Mahony concluded
When Johnny Sexton was finally brought it was his failure to make touch – ironically - from a penalty that started the Wallabies move that led to the seocnd Australian try. A rare error by the Leinster man but one that confirms he is of less value sprung from the bench. In the end it was tries by Bernard Foley and David Pocock that helped the Wallabies bring Ireland's 12-game run to a halt. Foley also kicked two penalties and a conversion for the hosts, who take an early lead in the three-Test series.
Ireland stand-off Joey Carbery kicked three penalties for the visitors, who had tries by CJ Stander and Kieran Marmion ruled out.
“I thought they were incredibly physical,” said Joe Schmidt afterwards, “They persisted with a pretty effective tactic of cross-kicking and having Israel Folau going after them. He didn’t get them all but he got a few which allowed them to get in behind us and we were scrambling a little bit.
“We slipped off a few tackles, one early on Kurtley Beale where I thought Jacob Stockdale made an unbelievable tackle in the corner on Koroibete. They worked pretty hard at the scrum and got it to turn pretty well. I thought our lineout got some really good pressure on them and that was a positive for us.
“We got in behind them a couple of times and probably over-kicked the ball – once from Conor [Murray] when it went touch in goal and another from Jacob where it went off the side of his foot and straight into touch.
“We probably didn’t hold ono the ball as well as we would have liked. There was a lot of pressure at the ruck as well. Pocock obviously put a lot of pressure on and he always makes a big difference to a team. Apart from that, I don’t think there was too much between the teams.
“The other thing was that they [the match officials] might have asked the other question [when CJ Stander had a possible try disallowed]. It looked like he might have got it down.
“At the same time, they [the Wallabies] got one pulled down [Folau's disallowed try] as well when it was a pretty clear that a player was taken out off the ball. We’ll just have to dust ourselves off.
“It’s nothing that we didn’t expect. They’re an unbelievably athletic and talented team. The last time they played here, as I said during the week, they beat the All Blacks.
“That’s the level and we’ve got to be able to compete at that level and get the margins to fall our way, albeit they were pretty skinny today. With 14 minutes left we led 9-8 but you gotta lead after 80 minutes.”