WELCOME back David Pocock. A supreme return after an 18-month break from Test rugby transformed the Wallabies when a super-charged second half spurt shattered Irish hearts on Saturday night.
The rousing 18-9 victory for the Wallabies ended the 12-Test winning streak of the Six Nations champions of Europe in a tight, true Test match to open the series at Suncorp Stadium.
The Wallabies were down 9-8 with 14 minutes still to play before the team’s big fitness gains, smothering intensity and a bold roll of the dice by skipper Michael Hooper paid off big time.
Flanker Pocock was in everything and the Wallabies are twice the threat when their breakdown king is causing calculated havoc.
The Irish were precise with their protection of the ball at the attacking ruck but Pocock’s powerful arms twice found a way in with perfect timing to force turnovers.
The Test took a dramatic turn at the hour mark when the gold army in the big crowd of 46,273 booed Kiwi TMO Ben Skeen for ruling “no try” on what appeared to be a scoot-away Israel Folau try.
The TMO found that Wallaby Adam Coleman had tackled an Irishman without the ball, a decoy player that the big lock had simply smothered, and play was resumed 45m downfield.
The Wallabies went up a gear.
A super tighthead scrum with replacement prop Taniela Tupou driving forward set up the go-ahead penalty goal for Bernard Foley.
Samu Kerevi and Rob Simmons split Will Genia balls when tries were on but Hooper made the big call of the Test with his side 11-9 ahead and with a close range penalty.
Instead of a shot at three-points, Hooper ordered a quick tap and the 10-phase assault finished with Pocock plunging over.
The scrambling of the Wallabies was magnificent with winger Dane Haylett-Petty holding up a charged CJ Stander over the tryline in the second half and reserve backrower Pete Samu, the pick of the debutants, saving with a key tackle with just minutes to play.
The early intensity of the Test was measured by the shuddering hits from the Wallabies that fans could almost feel in the top deck of the stands.
Winger Marika Koroibete levelled Irish halfback Conor Murray the split-second he caught a kick and lock Adam Coleman stopped two Irish forwards with the force of a truck before the the match was eight minutes old.
The quick ball that Murray directed to his runners and the well-organised Irish quickly established the Test as one that would decided by a key play or error.
The Wallabies were expert when their chance came at the 33-minute mark with flyhalf Bernard Foley igniting the raid with a long pass under pressure and re-appearing to finish it off for a try.
In recent weeks, Foley had talked up making himself more of an attacking threat by enacting “the Mark Ella theory of getting more touches and putting myself in the game more.” This was the perfect demonstration after straightening runs by Dane Haylett-Petty and Samu Kerevi.
The Wallabies led 8-6 after a high-quality joust through the first half which also painted young Irish winger Jacob Stockdale as a find.
His try-saving tackle to jolt Koroibete into touch 3m out was superb and twice be defused imprecise Kurtley Beale cross-kicks which were meant to free up Israel Folau in midfield.
Flanker David Pocock was superb in his first Test for 18 months.
The opening to the second half became tighter and more attritional with the Irish contriolling the ball and the Wallabies perhaps kicking it back to them more than they should have.
New Wallabies hooker Brendan Paenga-Amosa scrummaged strongly but had his first lineout throw in Test rugby picked off and muffed connections with his jumpers on two more occasions were black marks on his 54-minute debut.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika will be delighted because he talked up the Irish pre-Test as “the best team in their history.”
“We were far from perfect but I’m really proud that our work ethic got us through because that atmosphere was electric. That big scrum against the feed was such a turning point,” Cheika said.
AUSTRALAI 18 (Bernard Foley, David Pocock tries Foley con 2 pens) IRELAND 9 (Joe Carbery 3 pens) at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen. Crowd: 46,273