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Sunday, October 10, 1999 Published at 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK

Wallabies survive scrap with Irish

It was a bruising opening half

Ireland 3-23 Australia

Australia secured victory in a bruising, mistake-ridden encounter with Ireland but left Lansdowne Road with doubts lingering over their World Cup pretensions.

The BBC's Nigel Starmer-Smith: "One sensed something was about to give"
It was a crunching encounter in which a handful of Irish players were required to leave the field for treatment in the blood bin and two men were cautioned for a late punch-up.

Both sides threw away more chances than they took.

Australia's 20-point cushion was due to a disappointing performance from an error-riddled Irish back line rather than any world-beating moves.

Ireland will know they missed a huge opportunity to punish the tournament third-favourites who are unlikely to look so rusty in later games.

Losing by just 6-0 at half-time, Ireland had the tournament's first real upset within their sights.

Early misses

Australia should have been leading by a larger margin but Wallabies kicker Matt Burke nailed only one of three relatively easy first-half penalties.

The Wallabies' only really looked dangerous when sparked into life by the strong running of their giant back-three.

Ireland persisted in chipping over the top to this danger area rather than keeping the ball in hand.

Australia edged ahead further after the re-start with an early second-half penalty - Burke restored to kicking duty ahead of skipper John Eales who temporarily took over following his early misses.

Wood to the rescue

They began to turn the screw and seemed certain to score their first try as their forwards pounded the Irish line.

Instead the Irish counter-attacked when inspirational hooker Keith Wood stole the ball, dummied inside like the best full-back and hoofed a huge kick upfield where Australia were forced to concede the penalty.

This time David Humphreys - who missed first-half chances to keep Ireland level - slotted the three-pointer and Lansdowne Road, sensing a revival, erupted.

But it was the Australia forward Toutai Kefu who imposed his bulk on the game with a charging run that set up his side's match-clinching score.

Kefu, earlier involved in a nasty punch-up with Trevor Brennan, broke through the weakening Irish forwards before feeding Richard Harry who found Tim Horan arriving at pace on his shoulder to finish from ten yards.

Still Australia could not kill off the brave Irish. But when the home side emerged from a five-minute encampment on the Wallaby try line without a score, the game was up.

With Ireland exposed, Australia added a second try with what was their best move of the game.

Scrum-half George Gregan showed fantastic sleight of hand before releasing Ben Tune on the right-flank who powered home for a well-deserved score.

Ireland continued to create half-chances but their afternoon was summed up when a promising stoppage-time break by Jonathan Bell ended when he knocked-on what should have been a simple take.

Australia will finish top of the group but it was a far from convincing performance.

Ireland have never made it past the quarter-finals and will now need to beat Romania next Friday to be assured of a playoff spot.

Ireland: O'Shea, Bishop, O'Driscoll, Maggs, Mostyn, Humphreys, Tierney, Fitzpatrick, Wood, Wallace, Johns, O'Kelly, Brennan, Ward, O'Cuinneagain.
Replacements: Bell, Elwood, O'Meara, Miller, Casey, Clohessy, Nesdale.
Australia: Burke, Tune, Herbert, Horan, Roff, Larkham, Gregan, Harry, Kearns, Blades, Giffin, Eales, Connors, Williams, Kefu.
Replacements: Little, Grey, Whitaker, Strauss, Finegan, Crowley, Paul.
Referee: Clayton Thomas (Wales)

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