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David Pocock has shown his immense worth to Australian rugby with a heroic Wallabies return at Suncorp Stadium to help end a 15-month Irish unbeaten streak.
Influential in attack and defence, Pocock was the undoubted star for the Australians who upset the Six Nations champions 18-9 on Saturday night in front of 46,273 fans.
The Wallabies were outstanding in defence, as the Irish dominated possession and territory, but could not cross the line to boost their string of 12-straight wins.
Australia scored the only two tries of what was tough and torrid first Test, but should have had a third when cruelly denied amid huge controversy.
Down 9-8 in the 60th minute, the Suncorp Stadium crowd were in raptures when Israel Folau finished a scintillating movement started by a rib-rattling Samu Kerevi hit that forced a midfield turnover.
But their celebrations were short-lived as South African referee Marius Van Der Westhuizen overturned the try due to a meaningless backplay incident in which lock Adam Coleman tackled decoy James Ryan, who was Ireland’s best on the night.
Fans from both nations were bewildered by the decision and former Wallabies captain and commentator Phil Kearns voiced the opinion of many by exclaiming “this referee has lost the plot”.
But the Wallabies were able to maintain their composure and their scrum – led by the front-row reserves – forced a key penalty near the line for Bernard Foley to kick Australia to an 11-9 lead.
With Folau leaping high and Will Genia kicking truly in two big plays that forced another penalty, Pocock barged over to reward the call for a quick tap with eight minutes left.
The flanker, who last played Test rugby 18 months ago before enjoying a sabbatical, consistently relieved pressure for the home side with turnovers and ruck penalties as the Irish racked up countless phases.
The first half was littered by an array of bone-rattling hits on the tourists, particularly halfback Conor Murray who battled throughout after he was ironed out early by Marika Koroibete and Kurtley Beale.
Coleman was immense in the collision zone while Beale looked dangerous in attack, although he and his teammates too often kicked it away.
Australia’s lineout struggled with debutant hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa losing three throws.
But the Six Nations champions went to halftime trailing for the first time this year after Foley started and finished a brilliant backline try in the 35th minute for an 8-6 lead.
With Rob Henshaw rushing out of the defensive line, Foley’s quick hands put Dane Haylett-Petty and Kerevi in space and Genia was able to shovel it out quickly for the flyhalf to score in the corner.
No.8 CJ Stander should have put Ireland back in the lead just after the break when put into the clear by Ryan but he was run down and held up by Koroibete and Haylett-Petty.