Rugby World Cup 1999
Wallabies seal quarter-final spot
October 10, 1999
Tim Horan dives in to score against Ireland
© Getty Images
Australia laboured their way to a 23-3 win over Ireland in their World Cup Group E match at a packed Lansdowne Road on Sunday afternoon to seal a quarter-final spot. The win means Australia are assured of finishing on top of Group E after their earlier win over Romania.
A fiery but scrappy match saw the Australians get home thanks to second-half tries from veteran centre Tim Horan and wing Ben Tune, two penalties from Matthew Burke and one from John Eales and a pair of conversions from Burke. Ireland's only points came from a David Humphreys' penalty in the second half. It was tight and it was tough throughout a match played in difficult swirling wind, but the rugby was largely disappointing as the Australians struggled to get their backline flowing despite plenty of possession. It was a day for artisans, not artists.
The Australians, World Cup winners in 1991, are vying - along with New Zealand and defending champions South Africa - to become the first team to win the Webb Ellis Trophy twice. Ireland have never made it past the quarter-finals and will now need to beat Romania next Friday to be assured of a play-off spot against either France or Fiji. "For us to go through we'll have to do it the hard way now," said Ireland's New Zealand coach Warren Gatland.
Australia's win maintained their record not having lost at Lansdowne Road for 31 years and they will now play either Wales, Argentina or Samoa in the last eight. It was Australia's 11th straight win over Ireland, whose creativity failed to match their legendary toughness. The Aussies played it tight when they needed to and then opened up in the final 20 minutes. Scoring opportunities were at a premium until late, when the Australians took control.
"We knew that we couldn't afford to spread it wide too early," said Aussie skipper Eales, who gave the Irish credit for forcing his side into errors. Australian coach Rod Macqueen believed his team had cleared an important hurdle, but added: "If we are going to be there at the end we still have a lot of improving to do."
The Irish, meanwhile, were desperately disappointed at their inability to make any inroads on an Australian defence that has yet to concede a try in the tournament. "We simply didn't play as well as we expected to, or needed to," said manager Donal Lenihan.
Penalties from Burke, who was shaky with his kicking, and Eales gave the Wallabies a narrow 6-0 half-time lead. Both teams were deeply committed and three players - Australian hooker Phil Kearns and Irishmen Malcolm O'Kelly and Trevor Brennan - visited the blood bin in the first 25 minutes. Kearns did not return to the field, suffering from a sprained foot. Skipper Eales took over the kicking from Burke but he, too, missed a 29th-minute penalty after Brennan was penalised for a late tackle on Joe Roff.
Ireland lost centre Kevin Maggs, who was clearly groggy after being hit by Daniel Herbert and Horan in a tackle, while Australia lost Kearns' replacement, Jeremy Paul, to a head injury. He was temporarily replaced in the hooking role by prop Dan Crowley - prompting uncontested scrums - before returning after halftime. Australia got another penalty just before the break when full-back Conor O'Shea was guilty of a high tackle on fly-half Stephen Larkham - playing in his first test after being sidelined for 10 months through injury. This time, Eales was successful.
Burke made it 9-0 with a 45th minute penalty before Australian number eight Toutai Kefu and Brennan traded blows in an angry exchange that saw warnings issued by Welsh referee Clayton Thomas but no expulsions. Ireland finally got the on the board after 52 minutes when Humphreys, who had missed twice before the break, landed a penalty - but he was soon replaced by Eric Elwood. Australia took a grip on the proceedings with a 56th-minute try to Horan, converted by Burke.
Surging runs by Tune, then Kefu and finally prop Richard Harry ripped the Irish defence apart and Horan swallow-dived over behind the posts. Burke converted and the Irish were suddenly confronted by a mountain they never looked like scaling. It was suddenly 16-3 and the die was cast.
Three minutes from time Tune went over in the corner for a second Aussie touchdown and Burke converted for a 20-point winning margin. "I was very disappointed with our performance, although we were beaten by a very good Australian team," said Gatland. "We didn't really fire a shot. We let ourselves down out there."