Brisbane (Australia) (AFP) – Wallabies talisman David Pocock made a brilliant return from sabbatical when he scored a late, match-clinching try to give Australia an 18-9 win over Ireland on Saturday.
The former captain, playing his first Test in 18 months, crashed over from two metres out in the 72nd minute to give Australia a decisive, nine-point cushion.
It capped a typically influential performance for the flanker, who performed charity and educational work during his time out and played himself to a standstill during a tight match against the Six Nations champions.
Playing on the blindside, Pocock was at his ball-poaching best as he continually frustrated the Irish ruck ball.
Ireland had their chances and will consider themselves unlucky to lose, with CJ Stander held up over the line early in the second half and replacement scrum-half Kieran Marmion denied by the television match official in the final minute.
But the Wallabies deserved the victory and will go into the second Test in Melbourne full of confidence after a successful start to their international season.
The Wallabies built the win on the back of a superb defensive effort, restricting the visitors to three penalty goals.
Australia coach Michael Cheika said the Wallabies had wanted to be like Ireland this season.
“We spoke in the lead-up about work ethic — Ireland are probably where they are because they are such a hard-working team and if we wanted to compete with them, we needed to have a work ethic that was at least the same, if not better,” he said.
Cheika said the whole back row had contributed to the win.
“(But) Poey’s work rate was off the chart, and that’s what he’s renowned for.”
– Jarring hits –
In a brutal start to the match, the Wallabies hammered Ireland with some massive tackles.
Lock Adam Coleman was prominent in defence early, poleaxing a number of Irish players, while centres Samu Kerevi and Kurtley Beale both put jarring hits on their opposite numbers.
“They were incredibly physical,” Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said, conceding that it was a match they could have won.
“We just probably didn’t hold on to the ball as much as we would have liked,” he said.
“There was a lot of pressure at the rucks, Pocock obviously put a lot of pressure on and he always makes a big difference to a team.
“Apart from that I don’t think there was too much between the teams.”
Bernard Foley and Joey Carbery traded early penalties before the Irish began to assert some dominance with better possession and territory.
They were rewarded with a second Carbery three-pointer when Wallabies captain Michael Hooper was penalised at the breakdown.
The Wallabies spun the ball wide at every opportunity to try to beat the Irish rush defence, and were almost rewarded when giant winger Marika Koroibete was given space and set sail for the corner — only for Jacob Stockdale to appear from nowhere and put him into touch with a superb covering tackle.
Ireland looked set to take the narrow 6-3 lead into the break until Foley found winger Dane Haylett-Petty in space with another long pass.
Haylett-Petty straightened the attack and fed Kerevi, who was pulled down metres from the line.
But from quick ruck ball, Will Genia popped a pass to Foley, who dived over in the corner to give the home side an 8-6 lead at half-time.
Ireland started the second half brightly and were unlucky not to score when Stander was held up over the line after a 40-metre break.
But the visitors hit the front soon after when Carbery kicked his third penalty following a ruck infringement from Pocock.
Australia refused to give in and gradually worked their way back into the game.
Israel Folau thought he had scored midway through the half, only for the referee to reverse the decision when Coleman was found to have tackled a man without the ball.
But the home side had the ascendancy and went ahead with a second Foley penalty before Pocock’s late heroics as Australia swarmed following a tap penalty.