Ireland simply cannot close a deal. It is a psychological issue that their incoming coach, Declan Kidney, will surely address after they showed in Melbourne just how close they are to beating the biggest teams.
The Irish won seven out of 15 matches in the season brought to an end by this Test. Take out wins over Bayonne, the Barbarians, Namibia and Georgia, and things look even less healthy. However, this tour saw Ireland produce two displays full of the fury that was missing at the World Cup in September.
As against the All Blacks in Wellington a week before, victory was there for the taking against the Wallabies on Saturday. Ireland enjoyed more than 60 per cent of territory and possession. They fell short and their shattered captain, Brian O'Driscoll, tried to put his finger on what was needed to take that extra step.
"We've been here and pushed these sides so close, so many times; we just don't have that final element," he said. "[The scrum-half] Eoin Reddan made a good point after the game, that maybe when we're getting to a crucial point in a game, when we feel as though the tide is turning, we are just throwing those 50-50 passes when we just need to be a little bit more stable and just try and grind our results, rather than throw the miracle ball. That's probably one of the most relevant points that we'll get from this tour."
Reddan was spot on. Ireland, given carte blanche by their caretaker coach, Michael Bradley, to "have a cut", seemed to lose their heads at times. Numerous "million dollar" passes and offloads were never really on. The best time to go wide is when momentum has been built by the forwards; Ireland frequently moved static ball, allowing an impressive Wallaby defence to deal with the situation.
That said, there was still some productive Irish attacking and Tommy Bowe on the wing and Rob Kearney at full-back had big games – Kearney, in particular, oozing quality. O'Driscoll was one of the main culprits in terms of trying to force the issue but he had his moments too, running an excellent support line for Ireland's second try after the pack had mauled beautifully to get Denis Leamy over for a first-half touchdown.
O'Gara's conversion of Leamy's try was Ireland's only other score but he should have had three points, had Peter Stringer not opted to tap an easy penalty chance on the stroke of half-time. Stringer otherwise enjoyed a productive recall at No 9.
The two Wallaby tries owed much to hesitant defending and exquisite offloads. Lote Tuqiri surged and then passed beautifully off the ground to Berrick Barnes for the first; Matt Giteau's flick to James Horwill for the second was a thing of beauty. But the Wallabies only managed a penalty in a second half dominated by the Irish.
Robbie Deans was delighted his men had managed to hold out. Ireland deserved a victory, but Bradley was not playing that card. "Working with these guys has been fantastic," he said.
The positives from the tour include two meaningful performances; strong strides forward for Kearney, Jamie Heaslip, Paddy Wallace, Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe; and the knowledge the All Blacks can be beaten at Croke Park in the autumn. "There were some good words spoken after the match about the fact that New Zealand are coming to Ireland and players were saying not to wait until then but to start thinking about it next week," Bradley said. "That's the calibre of person you have in there. We need to start converting now."
Australia: C Shepherd (Force); P Hynes (Reds), S Mortlock (Brumbies, capt), B Barnes (Reds), L Tuqiri (Waratahs); M Giteau (Force), L Burgess; B Robinson (both Waratahs), S Moore (Reds), M Dunning (Waratahs), J Horwill (Reds), N Sharpe (Force), R Elsom (Waratahs), G Smith (Brumbies), W Palu (Waratahs). Replacements: A Baxter (Waratahs) for Dunning, 59; D Mumm (Waratahs) for Elsom, 70; A Freier (Waratahs) for Moore, 74; P Waugh (Waratahs) for Palu, 75; S Cordingley (Reds) for Burgess, 78.
Ireland: R Kearney; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll (capt; all Leinster), P Wallace, T Bowe (both Ulster); R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan (all Munster), R Best (Ulster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, D Leamy (all Munster), S Jennings, J Heaslip (both Leinster). Replacements: S Ferris (Ulster) for Jennings, 25; J Flannery (Munster) for Best, 51; E Reddan (Wasps) for Stringer, 51; T Buckley (Munster) for Hayes, 53; G Murphy (Leicester) for Horgan, 59; G Dempsey (Leinster) for O'Driscoll, 71; Hayes for Horan, 74.
Referee: C Berdos (France).Reuse content