Rugby Union: Irish mauled by lion of a Wallaby

Australia 46 Ireland 10
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CLIVE WOODWARD and his 35-strong England tour party did not quite go the distance at Ballymore on Saturday night, walking out on the Wallabies' latest stroll through the crumbling barricades of the northern hemisphere in good time to catch the water taxi back to their semi-tropical hideaway off the Queensland coast. Mind you, they lasted a whole lot longer in the stand than the Irish did on the pitch; the contest was dead, buried and forgotten so long before the final whistle that any self-respecting trading standards officer would have demanded a 50 per cent refund for the paying public.

Alarmingly for both sets of Europeans, the Australians operated at something less than 50 per cent efficiency and still managed to rattle up a record winning margin against a strangely conciliatory band of green-shirted visitors. There were isolated outbreaks of emerald aggression - perfectly legitimate in most cases, decidedly dodgy in the case of Peter Clohessy - but, by and large, Warren Gatland's revamped side did not so much stand up and slug it out as lay back and think of Ireland. If the spirit of Lansdowne Road still exists, it does not possess a passport.

It has long been written in tablets of stone that, while Ireland always lose the war with their far-flung Antipodean cousins, they sometimes win the odd fight. On this occasion, though, they finished a distant second in the body count as well as on the scoreboard. Conor O'Shea, the lone quality full-back available to the tourists, fractured his jaw in one of several shuddering collisions with the opposition and spent yesterday consuming his food with the aid of a straw. He will not play again on the trip.

Clohessy may well find himself in the same boat, not because of any injury to himself but as a result of the injury he inflicted on Ben Tune. The thirtysomething prop forward from Munster is an honest enough soul and he probably treats the old ladies of Limerick like royalty, but when the red mist descends he tends to lose himself in it.

The boot he applied to the Queensland wing's knee at a 47th minute ruck was reckless at best and vicious at worst, and his subsequent tangle with the magnificent George Gregan proved to be one tangle too many. Gatland exercised his coach's prerogative by substituting Clohessy without further ado and suggested afterwards that if the match video contained triple- X material, disciplinary action might follow.

Rod Macqueen, the amiable Wallaby coach, decided against raising hell over Clohessy, preferring instead to talk up the Irish effort, presumably in an effort to put bums on seats for the second and final Test in Perth this weekend. The unfortunate Tune will miss the fixture through shoulder trouble rather than the bruising around his knee.

"Ireland are a good side and they'll have learned a fair bit from this game; certainly, they're a far, far tougher proposition than, say, the Welsh team we played back in 1991," Macqueen pronounced. It was a generous enough comment, but hardly designed to set them dancing in the streets of Dublin. Australia beat those particular Welshmen 63-6 in the era of four-point tries.

The fact of the matter was that Ireland were not only out-run, out-tackled and out-thought, but virtually out-everythinged. Their new-fangled experiment with running the ball did not stack up, partly because they had next to no ball to run and partly because David Humphreys reverted to a kicking game that fell to pieces under pressure. While Brian O'Driscoll often wrong-footed the Wallaby backs and generally lived up to his own advance publicity, the 20-year-old debutant centre found himself performing in a vacuum. Vacuums tend to be filled, of course, especially when Australian midfielders are in the vicinity.

"You have to hand it to Tim Horan and Daniel Herbert; they ruck and maul and commit themselves to the tackle like back row forwards," said the Irish captain, Dion O'Cuinneagain, full of admiration for a unit so ridiculously good that it can afford to use a state-of-the-art performer like Jason Little in a spare-part capacity. "It's their physical strength that really gets to you. They both slow up opposition ball like born flankers and they make their own possession available so quickly that it's easy for the Wallabies to go through five or six consecutive phases. That's where the tries come from."

And come they did. Tiaan Strauss, a former Springbok No 8 and captain turned fully-fledged Wallaby, was the chief recipient of all that midfield muscularity, marking his Test debut in the gold jersey with a hat-trick of scores in the space of 13 rampant minutes. Having replaced Toutai Kefu shortly after the interval, the so-called "Lion of the Kalahari" - soon to be known, perhaps, as the "Dingo of the Outback" - opened his account in no-nonsense fashion by finishing off Jeremy Paul's rumble into the Irish 22, and then ran slide-rule precise angles in support of Chris Latham and David Giffin to claim the others.

"Maybe I should retire now, because it won't get much better than that," said the 32-year-old Bokke veteran, more than a little bewildered by the immediacy of it all. Actually, he should stick with the day job a while longer, for it may well get better. Macqueen will probably stick with Kefu for the time being, but it is not difficult to foresee Strauss starting at least one of this summer's big Tri-Nations games in preparation for the World Cup. He has a substantial amount to offer, if not a substantial amount of time in which to offer it.

One thing is certain: Woodward and his charges will not want to see too much of him in Sydney on Saturday week. With Lawrence Dallaglio missing from their own loose forward equation, the last thing they need is a new, improved Wallaby back row bristling with Springbok hostility. That really is the worst of all worlds.

Australia: Tries Strauss 3, Tune, Wilson, Herbert; Conversions Spooner 5; Penalties Spooner 2. Ireland: Try Maggs; Conversion Humphreys; Penalty Humphreys.

AUSTRALIA: C Latham; B Tune, D Herbert, T Horan (all Queensland), J Roff (ACT); N Spooner (Queensland), G Gregan (ACT); D Crowley (Queensland), J Paul, P Noriega (both ACT), T Bowman (NSW), D Giffin (ACT), M Cockbain, T Kefu, D Wilson (all Queensland, capt). Replacements: T Strauss (NSW) for Kefu, 46; J Little (Queensland) for Tune, 47; A Blades (NSW) for Crowley, 48; J Williams (ACT) for Cockbain, 70; N Grey (NSW) for Giffin, 79.

IRELAND: C O'Shea (London Irish); J Bishop (London Irish), B O'Driscoll (University College, Dublin), K Maggs (Bath), M Mostyn (Buccaneers); D Humphreys (Dungannon), T Tierney (Garryowen); P Clohessy (Young Munster), K Wood (Harlequins), P Wallace (Saracens), P Johns (Dungannon), J Davidson (Castres), D O'Cuinneagain (Sale, capt), V Costello (St Mary's College), A Ward (Ballynahinch). Replacements: R Corrigan (Lansdowne) for Clohessy, 51; M O'Kelly (St Mary's College) for Johns, 51; D Corkery (Cork Constitution) for Costello, 59.

Referee: A Watson (South Africa).