Australia 18 Ireland 12: O'Driscoll's heroics not enough as Irish go down fighting

Captain strains every sinew but the Wallabies' defence stays strong to give coach Deans a prized winning start
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The Independent Online

Robbie Deans, Australia's new coach, was keeping his feet firmly on the ground after getting his reign offto a good start with this gritty win over Irelandin Melbourne.

The Wallabies raced into an 18-7 lead shortly after half-time, but Ireland dominated possession in the match and a late Brian O'Driscoll try ensured the home team had to endure a tense finale before completing their victory.

"I'm happy with the win but the performance wasn'tflawless," Deans, a New Zealander, said. "The Irish asked a lot of us, they put us under pressure, but the guys hung in there well. It was never going to be perfect first up.

"I was essentially pretty pleased with some of the character shown in closing it out. You've got to work hard for Test wins and you don't get home without earning it. We created pressure [but] just lacked a little bit of cohesion."

O'Driscoll, Ireland's captain, was disappointed by another narrow defeat a week after a brave 21-11 loss to New Zealand in a Wellington storm. "It is very frustrating," he said. "We had a lot of possession but we lacked a clinical touch and were made to pay for it."

O'Driscoll particularly rued the way his side conceded soft first-halftries by Berrick Barnes and James Horwill. "It is quite soul-destroying when you give up easy tries," he said. "But we hung in there and gave ourselves a chance at the end."

Australia scored with their first attack of the game, the New South Wales winger Lote Tuqiri breaking down the left to set up Barnes for the opening try, after six minutes of play. Ireland responded well, putting together a surge down the right, and following a line-out their forwards drove the flanker Denis Leamy over the line for a try which was converted by the fly-half, Ronan O'Gara. Australia's other winger, Peter Hynes, then broke clear of the defence and Giteau danced through the remaining Irish cover before cleverly offloading for the second-row Horwill, following up, to crash over the line. Giteau converted and kicked a penalty to give the home side a healthy lead at the interval.

Another Giteau penalty took Australia further ahead after the break but Ireland continued to cause problems, a jinking run by the man of the match, the young Leinster full-back Rob Kearney, splitting the hosts' defence wide open.

O'Driscoll then inter-cepted a crossfield kickand sprinted down theline, with only a poor pass inside which went to ground and a cover tackle from Australia's full-back, Cameron Shepherd, preventing a try.

O'Driscoll finally got his reward for a persistent midfield display, however, when a fluent Ireland passing movement released the winger Tommy Bowe down the left. The captain was on hand to take the Ulsterman's inside pass and touch down despite Giteau's despairing tackle.

Ireland dominated the closing stages of the match, putting together a succession of multi-phase attacks, but the Australian defence held firm to record a vic-tory in their first match since last year's World Cup quarter-final defeat by England in Marseilles.

Australia: C Shepherd (Western Force); P Hynes (Queensland Reds), S Mortlock (ACT Brumbies, capt), B Barnes (Reds),L Tuqiri (New South Wales Waratahs);M Giteau (Force), L Burgess (Waratahs); B Robinson (Waratahs), S Moore (Reds), M Dunning (Waratahs), J Horwill (Reds), N Sharpe (Force), R Elsom (Waratahs),W Palu (Waratahs), G Smith (Brumbies). Replacements: D Mumm (Waratahs) for Sharpe, 48; A Baxter (Waratahs) for Dunning, 58; A Freier (Waratahs) for Moore, 73; P Waugh (Waratahs) for Palu, 73.

Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); S Horgan (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (capt; Leinster), P Wallace (Ulster), T Bowe (Ulster); R O'Gara (Munster), P Stringer (Munster); M Horan (Munster), R Best (Ulster), J Hayes (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), D Leamy (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster), S Jennings (Leinster). Replacements: S Ferris (Ulster) for Jennings, 20; J Flannery (Munster) for Best, 51; E Reddan (Wasps) for Stringer, 51; T Buckley (Munster) for Hayes, 53; G Murphy (Leicester) for Horgan, 60; G Dempsey (Leinster) for O'Driscoll, 71.

Referee: C Berdos (France).