Ireland produced the upset of the Rugby World Cup on the back of its dominant scrum to kick to a 15—6 win over Tri—Nations champion Australia to take charge of Pool C on Saturday.
Jonathan Sexton and Ronan O’Gara each landed two penalty goals and Sexton added a drop goal to inflict the Wallabies’ first pool—stage loss at a World Cup since they went down to host South Africa in 1995.
James O’Connor kicked two first—half penalties for Australia, which conceded five scrum penalties and struggled to display any fluidity after having lost flanker David Pocock and hooker Stephen Moore to injury or illness in the hours leading up the match at Eden Park.
Ireland can almost certainly avoid defending champion South Africa and the top—ranked All Blacks on its side of the knockout draw by beating Italy on Oct. 2. That fate is now likely to befall the Wallabies, who are ranked six places higher than Ireland at No. 2 by the IRB.
After some heartbreaking defeats to the Australians at the World Cup, including the 1991 quarterfinal in Dublin which has become part of the tournament’s folklore, the Irish were euphoric.
“It was the performance we knew we had in us. We had incredible support and it was our job to give them something to shout about, and thankfully we managed to do that,” Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll said. “We had to go to the well today, we had to dig deeper than we had done. And thankfully we managed to do that.”
The Irish ran back onto the field after the match to salute the thousands of travelling fans but O’Driscoll later reminded them that only half the job was done in the group stage.
“Let’s not lose sight of the fact we have two more games,” he said.
Australia has the youngest squad at the tournament, but came into the tournament on a high after beating defending World Cup champion South Africa and No. 1—ranked New Zealand last month to claim its first Tri—Nations title in a decade. The more they tried to play running rugby, the more it backfired.
“The Irish did well to spoil our ball. We couldn’t get any momentum,” Wallabies captain James Horwill said. “We played some dumb footy.
“We were giving away silly penalties. We didn’t do well to hold on to the ball enough.”
Coming off an unconvincing 22—10 win over the United States after four straight losses in warmup matches, Ireland had been written off by the critics. But Australia had no answer to a committed and dynamic performance from the Irish forwards and often fell foul of referee Bryce Lawrence.
The Wallabies had wobbled in the first half of their 32—6 win over Italy last week, being held to a 6—6 scoreline at halftime before scoring four second—half tries. And that initial disjointed and erratic form returned on Saturday with few players enhancing their reputations.
The Wallabies’ double blow to their starting lineup didn’t help, losing Pocock early Saturday because of a back injury before Moore withdrew in the hours leading up to kickoff due to illness.
Ben McCalman made his first test start on the openside flank to take over from Pocock, and Tatafu Polota—Nau made only his fifth start in 26 tests in replacing Moore.
The loss of Pocock, one of the premier ball fetchers in the game, and Australia’s most experienced hooker in Moore were serious setbacks to a team already reeling from winger Digby Ioane’s absence after the powerful winger fractured his thumb against Italy.
Keywords: Rugby World Cup