It was Johnny Sexton’s return that headlined the lead-up to the second test but it was his halves partner Conor Murray’s world-class control, aided by his front 8, which got Ireland back into this series to level things up at 1-1.
The Wallabies had the perfect start in Melbourne – Kurtley Beale was under the posts after just 90 seconds. After the first test, you could be forgiven for thinking Australia would run away with this series. It was not to be, however, as Ireland regained the kick-off and started their methodical process of grinding down the Wallabies.
Ireland throws a lot of complexity at the opposition through switch plays and screen passes but rarely do they offload. They prefer planned complexity to improvisation. After contact, they hit the deck and recycle, almost pre-determinedly. The pack is well drilled at cleaning and this week they nullified Pocock. With a high number of recycles part of the design, Murray always shapes as a key figure.
This week the system worked to suffocate Australia out of the game. After three-quarters of the match, the men in gold had a measly 27% possession with 27% territory. Ireland had the run of play and all of the control.
They got their first penalty after holding the ball for 13 phases, which they plugged the corner for a five-metre lineout. Murray broke off the lineout maul down the blind side at the perfect moment just as Australia’s forwards re-committed, before floating a rainbow to the unmarked Conway to score in the corner.
Ireland took the lead 10-7 with a Sexton penalty after Murray’s exit box kick was re-gathered and the Wallabies were put into their own exit situation. They failed and were penalised right in front of goal.
They hit another two penalties to stretch to 16-7 ahead with smart exiting and playing at the right end of the field. With Koribete in the bin, Ireland deliberately spread wide to bring up Folau or Heylett-Petty as the last man before kicking in behind through wingers Conway and Larmour.
The Wallabies managed to get a quick strike score with a penalty try after piggy-back penalties but weren’t able to find a way back into Ireland’s 22 as they were hammered with wave after Irish carries. Pocock snuffed out two goal-line raids either side of half-time but that was it.
The dam eventually burst in the 54th minute when Murray fed Tadghe Furlong close to the line with a mismatch against Nick Phipps. A 66th minute penalty iced the game as Ireland finished the game with a rare period of defensive work.
This was a dominant display of ball control as the Wallabies were never able to get into the game after the second minute. The low-risk, zero offload-game starved them of the ball and after Ireland took care of Pocock, they had no way back into the arm wrestle. Worryingly, the injury to Will Genia removes the Wallabies best playmaker for the decisive third test.
With Sexton back in partnership with Murray, the Irish should be heavy favourites to claim a historic 2-1 series victory.
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