Boasting one of the slickest back lines in the tournament, the Wallabies struggled to live up to their billing and the Irish got home on the back of four penalties and a drop goal.
As much as full back Kurtley Beale tried to weave his magic from the back, Ireland stood firm with a defence that refused to buckle under anything that the Wallabies threw at them .
Having won 20 of their 29 clashes with Ireland, with another match being drawn, Australia were favourites on paper, though these two countries have produced some epic battles over the years.
The Wallabies’ preparations suffered late setbacks, with star flanker David Pocock withdrawing on the morning of the game with a back strain. He was replaced by his Western Force teammate Ben McCalman, while Tatafu Polota-Nau came into the front-row for an ill Stephen Moore.
It was a lively start, the Wallabies immediately putting pressure on the Irish after Keith Earls put his foot into touch from Quade Cooper’s kick-off.
Australia had their first chance for points in the fifth minute after full back Rob Kearney was penalised for a high tackle on his opposite number Kurtley Beale, but wing James O’Connor sent his shot just wide of the left-hand upright.
O’Connor, back in the starting side, made no mistake from in front six minutes later after the Wallabies were gifted a penalty from a scrum five metres out.
Ireland had their first chance to get on the scoreboard but fly half Jonathan Sexton’s long-range penalty from just inside half-way went wide. However, he drew his side level at 3-3 with a much easier effort after 15 minutes.
Australia then had to weather an onslaught from Ireland and Sexton put the Irish ahead 6-3 with only his second drop goal in international rugby.
O’Connor squared things up in the 24th minute after the Irish were caught offside. With the Wallabies upping the tempo in attack, they were gifted another three-point chance when the Irish were penalised for hands in the ruck, but O’Connor could not convert.
Sexton missed another long-range penalty seven minutes from half-time as both sides struggled to break the line in attack.
The Wallabies were again caught offside in the 49th and Sexton landed his third penalty to put Ireland 9-6 ahead.
Minutes later, Australia again infringed at the scrum but they were fortunate that Sexton’s relatively easy attempt rattled off the upright.
It was the Will Genia-Quade Cooper combination that almost found a way through wide on the right but Cooper’s final pass went astray with the line in sight.
But again Australia’s scrum conceded a penalty and this time it was a gift for Ronan O’Gara, who had come on as a replacement in the 48th minute. At 12-6 ahead in 61st minute, Ireland sniffed a victory and Australia were desperate for a break.
Australia needed all their resolve to keep Ireland out in the 67th minute, a timely penalty coming just in the nick of time as Ireland were bearing down on their line.
But another collapsed scrum virtually in front minutes later gifted O’Gara another penalty to put Ireland 15-6 with 10 minutes left.
Australia were camped all over Ireland’s line in the closing minutes but could not break through.
It took some desperate cover defence to stop Tommy Bowe from almost running the length of the field after intercepting a stray pass from Cooper in the last few minutes.
Quade Cooper (AUS), On the Eden Park crowd supporting Ireland: “There definitely was a lot of Irish support. That could have helped them. But they played a very good game. We didn’t play our best, so full credit to them.”
On the Irish team: “We knew the quality they had in their side. It was one of those games which was a real arm wrestle, but they came out on top, the way they dominated at the breakdown. Then we were in a position where we had to play catch-up football. They played hard on the ball and kept getting turnover after turnover. They kept attacking the breakdown, getting the penalty and kicking three points. When you do it over and over the scoreboard keeps ticking over.”
On the road ahead: “It’s a tough one, but one everyone is up for. It isn’t the end of the road for us. It just makes the road tougher.”
On losing: “It’s never a good feeling when you lose a game, especially important games like the World Cup We’ve got to look at ourselves and say we messed up.”
On not winning at Eden Park for 25 years: “A ground’s a ground. The way they played tonight, they would have played well on any ground.”
Stephen Ferris (IRE)
On Ireland’s scrum: “Our scrum was unbelievable all night. We always knew we were capable of it. We showed that when we played against England in the Six Nations. We’ve done a lot of work on it and it’s paying dividends.”
Keith Earls (IRE)
On what the victory means for Ireland: “We, as Irish, tend to be negative. But tonight we showed we could do it. It’s massive. It’s up there with Grand Slams, to beat the Tri Nations champions.
“It’s definitely one of the best games I’ve ever played in. I’ve been getting texts from back home. Limerick and Dublin are going crazy. It’s a real lift for the people back home.”