Ireland 20-20 Australia, Croke Park, November 15
Ireland and Wallabies battle to a draw
November 15, 2009
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll is mobbed by his team-mates after his last-gasp try against the Wallabies at Croke Park
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The talismanic centre struck in the final minute to mark his 100th Test appearance and fly-half Ronan O'Gara scuppered the Wallabies' bid for an all-conquering grand slam tour by slotting subsequent conversion with the last kick of the game
A first-half try from winger Drew Mitchell had given the tourists an early lead but his effort was cancelled out by another from Ireland winger Tommy Bowe after the break. Captain Rocky Elsom put Australia back on course for victory late in the game before O'Driscoll pounced in the closing moments to deny the visitors a famous win.
O'Driscoll joined the ranks of rugby's Test centurions by leading Ireland out in front of an expectant capacity crowd. The 30-year-old's 94th Ireland cap - when added to his six British & Irish Lions Test appearances - saw him join an elite group of 11 players to have reached the figure of 100 internationals. By contrast his provincial colleague Cian Healy was earning his first cap after getting the nod at loosehead prop.
Australia recalled flanker David Pocock for their latest Dublin encounter with the Western Force flanker displacing veteran George Smith in the only change to the side that accounted for England last time out.
Ireland were slow out of the blocks and were duly punished by a Wallabies side desperate to keep their quest for an unbeaten tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland alive. O'Driscoll failed to claim a wayward pass from O'Gara and Mitchell was the grateful beneficiary - racing in for his 17th Test try that was converted by fly-half Matt Giteau. Back came Ireland and a great kick and chase from Rob Kearney forced an error from the Wallabies and O'Gara's first successful penalty kick went some way to settle his side's nerves.
A good spell of pressure from the Wallabies soon had the home side scrambling again and an offside penalty offered the visitors the chance to restore their seven point lead but Giteau could not find the target.
Ireland responded with an impressive surge of their own and a strong run from flanker David Wallace took his side into the 22 where Australia were penalised for handling in the ruck that allowed O'Gara to slot a simple kick and reduce the deficit to one point. But Giteau cancelled out that score almost immediately with his first penalty after his forwards rumbled their opposite numbers back with some excellent counter-rucking.
The Wallabies' playmaker was soon centre of attention again after carving a great line through the Irish defence but his support was slow in coming and the home side recovered and forced to the turnover before clearing their lines. Australia were then reduced to 14-men when No.8 Wycliff Palu was sent to the sin-bin for a high and dangerous tackle on fullback Rob Kearney - with the Wallabies' backrow perhaps a little frustrated at being upended by Ireland's Stephen Ferris a few minutes earlier.
Clearly growing in confidence, O'Gara almost found Tommy Bowe with a neat cross kick in one of several examples of Ireland's willingness to gamble but it didn't pay off. Further enterprise from Wallace drew another penalty from Australia and O'Gara opted to kick for the lineout. But the Irish pack were guilty of not committing enough men to the breakdown and the Wallabies snuffed out the attack and soon Palu was back with no change to the scoreboard.
Ireland No.8 Jamie Heaslip was penalised at the breakdown early in the second period to allow Giteau the chance to extend his side's lead but he could only pull his effort wide of the posts. The Australian forwards continued to raise their game and an intense spell of pressure brought them reward in the form of Giteau's second penalty and an injury to the lively Luke Fitzgerald caused further concern for the Irish.
A barn-storming run from the impressive Healy gave the home crowd something to shout about moments later and the move ended with Bowe showing great strength to force his way over for a try although he had to wait for confirmation from the Television Match Official. The simple conversion from O'Gara levelled the scores and breathed renewed life into Ireland. Another sweeping move had the crowd on their feet with Healy again at the heart but the Wallabies' defence were quick to shut the door on replacement Keith Earls.
Australia rallied and worked the ball well to stretch the Irish defence before a smart off-load from prop Ben Alexander put his skipper away. But Elsom still had work to do and brushed off the combined challenge of Kearney and scrum-half Tomas O'Leary to touch down in the corner. Giteau landed a superb conversion from the touchline to cement his side's lead.
Ireland refused to roll over and peppered the Wallabies defence and opted to kick for the lineout when handed a penalty with a little over five minutes of the game remaining. Earls injected some pace into the line and lock Donncha O'Callaghan showed good hands but they failed to straighten at key moments and hooker Jerry Flannery was shepherded into touch.
Successive penalties against the Wallabies saw Ireland camped in their opponents' 22 and when the ball was worked wide from yet another lineout, Bowe powered over only to be denied by the TMO and an inconclusive replay. But from the resulting scrum O'Driscoll took advantage of a rare slip from a well-regimented Wallabies defence to dot down under the posts. And O'Gara the stepped up to slot the easy conversion and set the seal on a draw with the last kick of the game.