Stand-in captain, Brian O’Driscoll, called it mental toughness and certainly on a day of demanding conditions, the Irish were persistent, focused and confident enough to record a first success against the Wallabies since 1979. If O’Driscoll gave yet another master class of center play as well as leadership in the absence of the injured Keith Wood, it was Ronan O’Gara who overcame a few demons with a faultless display of kicking.
In recent test matches, O’Gara has been found wanting under pressure, but this time he landed six penalties out of six attempts in the driving rain and on a sodden surface. He was composed and assured in everything he did, frequently driving the Australians back with some expert tactical kicking. Indeed, while the victory was celebrated raucously, what probably gave the Ireland management as much satisfaction was that not one try was conceded.
“We’ve had a couple of really rough days defensively, but this time we made the big tackles and I think that was the winning of the game in the last 20 minutes,” said coach Eddie O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan admitted that the pressure had been on both him and the players to deliver against one of the world’s top three teams following so many near misses.
“We talked about having the composure and the strength of character to go and win it,” he said. “That was probably the most gratifying thing. I’ve had my ups and downs in the past year and the jury would still have been out on me a little. Maybe, hopefully, people will realize that I’m not so bad after all.”
With O’Gara kicking all 18 points to Matt Burke’s 9 for Australia, the Irish led 12-3 at halftime and the turning point came early in the second half when Shane Horgan just beat Stirling Mortlock to the ball to prevent what looked like a certain try for the visitors.
Apart from O’Driscoll and O’Gara, Victor Costello was immense on his return to the starting lineup, while Malcolm O’Kelly and Shane Byrne also impressed.
Fiji are Ireland’s opposition at Lansdowne Road on Sunday, followed by a much more demanding test against Argentina a week from Saturday.