Ireland 20-20 Australia, Croke Park, November 15
It's that man again
November 15, 2009
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll races away to score a vital try for his side in their 20-20 draw with Australia at Croke Park © Getty Images
Unbelievable. It appears almost impossible to keep Brian O'Driscoll out of the headlines. Not content with acres of coverage dedicated to the occasion of his 100th Test appearance - the talismanic centre popped up to rescue his side in the final minute of a bruising clash with Australia.
The Ireland skipper was having a quiet game by his usual high standards - crafted in 93 previous appearances in the emerald green and six in the famous red jersey of the British & Irish Lions - but it is an indication of true class when a player can conjure such a telling contribution and display a presence of mind when not at their personal best.
As a result of his latest headline-grabbing performance he can celebrate becoming the 11th member of an elite club featuring the likes of George Gregan, Jason Leonard, Philippe Sella and Percy Montgomery but none of them can rank alongside O'Driscoll when you look beyond the numbers - such is his standing and influence.
Ireland will no doubt accept the draw after struggling to shake the rust off in their opening clash of the autumn. With many of his leading lights on duty for the Lions this summer, Declan Kidney's first-choice side had not played since capturing the northern hemisphere crown in March. As a result it they were caught cold and gifted an early score but remedied concerns about a lack of intensity and showed real character to stick with the Wallabies and eventually claim a share of the spoils.
If it were not for O'Driscoll's scene-stealing final act then prop Cian Healy would rightfully claim star billing for a stunning display on debut. A rampaging run into the heart of the Wallabies defence that eventually led to Tommy Bowe's try was the pick of a highlight reel with the young Leinster prop looking at home on the international stage.
The Irish lineout was in imperious form and caused their Australian counterparts some concern in the opening period but there remains work to be done up front where John Hayes' and Jerry Flannery's lack of game time could explain their shortcomings at the scrum.
But it was their attacking endeavours that were most appealing - especially for those who had sat through the dour action served up elsewhere on the international stage this weekend. How refreshing it was to see a side with bold attacking intent and the confidence and ability to bring those tactics to fruition and not be disheartened or deterred when those plans don't come off. That is nine games unbeaten for Ireland now since they came up short at the hands of the All Blacks this time last year and by preserving that proud record they showed tremendous character that will no doubt be the envy of their Six Nations rivals.
The Wallabies' body language at the final whistle told its own story. They may have not been beaten on the scoreboard but the nature of this result will hurt like a defeat. The grand slam dream is over with this year's current crop of Wallabies stumbling at only the second hurdle. They may not have acknowledged as much in the build-up, but the chance to emulate the legendary 1984 Wallabies and erase the memories of their 2006 defeat at Lansdowne Road were huge motivating factors for Elsom and co and the challenge now is to pick themselves up as they head to Edinburgh and then Cardiff.
One review of the tapes should do the trick. The Wallabies claimed more than their fair share of territory and possession and bossed the breakdown throughout the contest. Elsom was back at Croke Park for the first time since inspiring Leinster to a stunning Heineken Cup semi-final victory over Munster in May, and was the tormentor-in-chief for much of this clash.
The issues at the lineout that threatened to undermine their hard work elsewhere were resolved at half-time with a more confrontational and successful general forward effort. It is clear they thought they did enough to win this game but such are the travails of the elite game. One major lapse cost them dear but they showed more than enough here to suggest they will at least complete their tour undefeated.
But today was O'Driscoll's day. Ten years after kicking off his international career against Australia in Brisbane he loomed large again to ensure another Dublin dead end for the Wallabies.