O'Driscoll marks 100th cap by saving Ireland again

Ireland 20 Australia 20
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The Independent Online

With 10 minutes to go, Australia leading 20-13 and Ireland's increasingly desperate efforts being thwarted by Wallaby defenders, referee Jonathan Kaplan and the video official, the over-riding thought was: "We could do with a bit of O'Driscoll now."

Ireland's captain had enjoyed a solid outing in his 94th appearance for his country and 100th Test match but was involved in the gift that was the Australians' first try after two minutes and had not been able to break free to produce any spectacular moments in attack. But, as with all world-class athletes, timing is everything and when O'Driscoll struck he made it count.

Tomas O'Leary's final pass from the scrum doubled up as the last throw of the dice and the gamble paid off as O'Driscoll drifted wide and the scrum-half's delivery hit him perfectly. Through he went for the touchdown under the posts and a delirious fist-clenching celebration. Ronan O'Gara added the conversion and the Grand Slam champions had a draw, which in the circumstances, was a commendable achievement.

Those circumstances included the Irish going into the match without a game together in eight months while the Australians have been playing and touring together since July. Also the fact that the tight head John Hayes and hooker Jerry Flannery were chronically short of game time and the loose head Cian Healy was making his debut had meant that the Irish scrum had creaked alarmingly against a powerful visiting unit. Yet, for that crucial end-play, the scrum was rock solid, allowing O'Leary the platform to find his man.

"It was just a smart move," O'Driscoll said. "It's something we've worked on very hard in training and I thought Tomas did brilliantly, he had a few options."

The most encouraging aspect from an Irish point of view was the obvious expansion of their attacking play, with all of the backline receiving regular ball to run on to. "If you don't try these things, you don't learn an awful lot about yourselves," O'Driscoll said. "But it's difficult to click when you haven't played together for a while."

The Australians were miffed afterwards and with good reason. This result takes the wind out of their Grand Slam sails and, when they had the opportunity to put the game out of Ireland's reach in the second half, they failed to take advantage. That being said, the seven points they had on the home side nearing the final whistle were a direct result of an Irish error after two minutes when O'Gara, adhering to the new positive policy fired out a pass to O'Driscoll which was too far in front of him and, when the ball hit the deck, Drew Mitchell pounced and raced over.

Australia started fluently but two O'Gara penalties pulled it back to 7-6 before Giteau kicked a penalty. Rocky Elsom, on his return to Ireland, was starting to throw his Leinster shapes and a fantastic break down the middle by the Wallaby captain needed an O'Driscoll tap-tackle to prevent lasting damage. The Australian midfield looked dangerous and Giteau sliced through after 26 minutes for what looked like a certain try, only for Rob Kearney to mow him down just short of the line with a fantastic tackle.

When Wycliffe Palu was sent to the sin bin a couple of minutes later for what looked like a thunderous, but legal, tackle, you sensed this was Ireland's chance to squeeze the visitors, but the Wallabies held out.

A Giteau penalty made it 13-6 but Cian Healy ignited the crowd with a wonderful surge to take Ireland deep into Aussie territory. Ireland worked the phases and Tommy Bowe powered over and O'Gara tied it up at 13-13.

If Ireland turn to their captain in times of need, the Wallabies have Elsom when they need to raise their game. Some good build-up play ended with Elsom setting off on a barnstorming surge which ended with him busting tackles by O'Leary and Kearney for a try in the left-hand corner.

Gitaeu's superb conversion made it 20-13 and you feared for Ireland's capacity to force their way back. But the next 20 minutes were a testament to the squad's fitness, attitude and resolve as they came at the Wallabies again and again. Bowe had a try ruled out by the video referee before O'Driscoll went over to preserve Ireland's unbeaten 2009 record.

Ireland: Tries Bowe, B O'Driscoll; Conversions O'Gara 2; Penalties O'Gara 2. Australia: Tries Mitchell, Elsom; Conversions Giteau 2; Penalties Giteau 2.

Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), P Wallace (Ulster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster); R O'Gara (Munster), T O'Leary (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster). Replacements: K Earls (Munster) for Fitzgerald, 53; D Leamy (Munster) for Ferris, 75.

Australia: A Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies); P Hynes (Queensland Reds), D Ioane (Queensland Reds), Q Cooper (Queensland Reds), D Mitchell (Western Force); M Giteau (Western Force), W Genia (Queensland Reds); B Robinson (Waratahs), S Moore (Brumbies), B Alexander (Brumbies), J Horwill (Queensland Reds), M Chisholm (Brumbies), R Elsom (Leinster, capt), D Pocock (Western Force), W Palu (Waratahs). Replacements: J O'Connor (Western Force) for Ashley-Coope, 69; T Polota-Nau (Waratahs) for Moore, 64.

Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).