SYDNEY – Coach Joe Schmidt praised Ireland's "special" achievement after they fought to a tenacious 20-16 victory over the Wallabies to win their first Test series in Australia in 39 years on Saturday.
Fly-half Johnny Sexton kicked a pressure penalty a minute from full-time to clinch a tense win in Sydney after Australia had fought back from eight points down in the second half. Ireland came from a game down to win the series 2-1, their first three-Test victory in the southern hemisphere, to add to their Grand Slam Six Nations triumph earlier this year.
"It's up there. They are a super team and to beat them in their backyard and sneak off with the Lansdowne Cup is a little bit special for us," Schmidt said.
"Especially on the back of a pretty long season and I think it's a credit to the players that they dug in just well enough."
Ireland, who trail only world champions New Zealand in the international standings, hadn't won a series in Australia since they swept a two-Test tour in 1979. But Schmidt's team fought back from losing the opening game 18-9 in Brisbane to win the final two Tests and end their 39-year away win drought against Australia.
In a gripping second half, the Wallabies clawed back from 17-9 down to close to within one point before Sexton landed his fifth penalty of the night to seal the win. It was a game dripping with controversy as both teams had a player sent to the sin bin and also lost their skippers, Australia's Michael Hooper and Ireland's Peter O'Mahony, to injury in the first half. But it was a chastening result for Australia, who have lost a home series for the second time in two years after going down 3-0 to England in 2016.
"Every time we got some football going we were penalised," Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
"I can't find those positives in the defeat. We wanted to win the trophy, didn't get to win it and I promise the supporters we'll come back strong in the series against New Zealand."
The Wallabies suffered an early setback when skipper Hooper injured his left hamstring in a clean-out and limped from the field, to be replaced by Pete Samu. Ireland were reduced to 14 men when winger Jacob Stockdale received a yellow card for leading with his elbow to the throat of Wallabies scrum-half Nick Phipps midway through the half.
There was more controversy in the 31st minute when Israel Folau went for a high ball with O'Mahony, who crashed heavily to the ground. After intervention from the television match official, Folau was given a yellow card and O'Mahony was taken from the field on a medicab.
Conor Murray had a try disallowed by the TMO but in the same incident Adam Coleman was penalised for offside, giving Sexton the easy task of putting Ireland 9-6 ahead near half-time.
Foley and Sexton exchanged penalties, both for offsides, as the Irish turned 12-9 ahead. Ireland once again dominated territory, possession and the run metres in the opening half, and at one stage put together 17 phases in the opposition quarter before the Australians got the ball clear.
Ireland went on the attack straight after the resumption and the forwards piled in for a pushover try to CJ Stander to open up an eight-point lead after 44 minutes. The Wallabies hit back after Foley's kick behind the Irish defence was seized by winger Marika Koroibete, who beat Rob Kearney and took Sexton over the line to score.
Foley converted for the Wallabies to close to within one point, 17-16, after 54 minutes. But Sexton had the final word with a pressure kick from wide out after replacement hooker Tolu Latu was penalised in a maul.