While this game in Dublin marked the end of a worrying seven-match run of defeats for the Wallabies, Cardiff could be the final scene in the remarkable career of Australia's captain, George Gregan.
Reports from Down Under at the weekend suggested that the veteran scrum-half is going to retire after Saturday's match against Wales.
There is no doubt that Gregan, the world's most capped rugby union player, will make his 118th appearance because his coach, Eddie Jones, as good as said he would. Particularly since it would be yet another landmark in a great career.
"I wouldn't expect massive changes," said Jones, "but there's a pretty good chance of George Gregan making his 50th appearance as captain."
The player himself spent most of his time in Dublin dead-batting all questions about his future. However, what is for certain is that when he is gone his leadership qualities will be missed.
Australia's performance was not perfect, not by a long way, and Wales will prove as much of a handful at the set-piece and line-out as did a vastly improved Ireland, but in broken play the visitors broke Irish tackles and hearts. Lote Tuqiri and Morgan Turinui were in commanding form in the middle of the back-line, Drew Mitchell on the left wing was dazzling in scoring two tries, while Chris Latham at full-back, was flawless, fast and fearless.
No wonder Ireland's new boy Andrew Trimble, the Ulster centre, was moved to observe of the Aussies: "They look smaller on TV. In real life, up close and alongside you they are bigger and stronger." However, Trimble did not disgrace himself and his partnership with Gordon D'Arcy looks richly promising. So does the back row, where Denis Leamy is rapidly building a serious reputation alongside Johnny O'Connor, the Wasps flanker whose hardness has earned him the nickname "Johnny O'Concrete".
The Ireland front row also performed decently, at times destroying the Wallabies scrum and leaving their rookie props David Fitter and Greg Holmes shaken and shattered after being taken to hell and back.
Yet Ireland's biggest problem was their inability to provide the finishing touch to their numerous creations. Eddie O'Sullivan, the Ireland coach, admitted: "Southern hemisphere sides are clinical and take advantage of all lapses."
Ireland will aim to regroup at home to Romania on Saturday. For the Australians it does not get any easier, but Jones said simply: "Beating Wales would be a good way to finish the year."
Ireland: Try Horgan; Penalties O'Gara 2, Humphreys. Australia: Tries Mitchell 2, Latham; Conversions Rogers 3; Penalties Rogers 3.
Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); S Horgan (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster), G D'Arcy (Leinster), T Bowe (Ulster); R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan (all Munster), S Byrne (Saracens), J Hayes, D O'Callaghan (both Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), S Easterby (Llanelli, capt), J O'Connor (Wasps), D Leamy (Munster). Replacements: M McCullough (Ulster) for O'Kelly, 18; D Humphreys (Ulster) for O'Gara, 53; R Best (Ulster) for Byrne, 54
Australia: C Latham (Queensland); M Gerrard (ACT), L Tuqiri, M Turinui (both NSW), D Mitchell (Queensland); M Rogers (NSW), G Gregan (ACT, capt); G Holmes (Queensland), B Cannon, D Fitter (both W Australia), H McMeniman (Queensland), N Sharpe (W Australia), J Roe (Queensland), P Waugh (NSW), G Smith (ACT). Replacements: A Baxter (NSW) for Fitter, 54; W Sailor (NSW) for Gerrard, 66; M Chisholm (ACT) for McMeniman, 72; T Polota-Nau (NSW) for Cannon, 73; M Henjak (W Australia) for Gregan, 73; S Fava (W Australia) for Roe, 76.
Referee: C White (England).Reuse content