Sun, Nov 02, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Aussies edge out Ireland as Scots win

WORLD CUP The fans expected a grudge match and Australia and Ireland didn't disappoint. Scotland came back in the final minutes to beat Fiji in a heart-stopper

AP , MELBOURNE, SYDNEYAND BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA

South Africa's Jaque Fourie, left, heads for the try line to score despite the challenge of Samoa's Brian Lima during their Rugby World Cup match in Brisbane, Australia, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Australia was forced to defend a one point lead for the final 12 minutes Saturday as the Wallabies hung on for a 17-16 victory over a tenacious Ireland.

The result gives Australia top spot in Pool A and a date with Scotland in the next stage, while Ireland must meet in-form France.

Both teams had already secured quarterfinal spots, but the match was played at a high level of intensity that suggested more than just finals places were at stake.

After scoring 232 points in their last two games, the Australians managed just one try from flanker George Smith, while the boot of flyhalf Elton Flatley and an uncharacteristic drop goal by captain and halfback George Gregan made the remainder.

Ireland's explosive center Brian O'Driscoll produced his best game of the tournament, claiming a try and drop goal, while flyhalf Ronan O'Gara kicked eight points.

"Obviously we didn't play the way we wanted to, but that was a lot to do with the way the Irish performed," said Gregan.

"They put us under a lot of pressure and had most of the field position in the whole game. There's lots of areas to improve but we hung in their and won a tight match which is always a good thing to do."

Mat Rogers and Shane Horgan were both sent to the sinbin, punches were thrown and Smith had his hair yanked as what was expected to be a gentle warmup to the quarterfinals became a full blooded thriller.

The game opened at a frenetic pace that was to last the full 80 minutes.

Australia opened the scoring in the 10th minute courtesy of Gregan's drop goal from 20m and Smith followed with a try three minutes later to make the score 8-0, after chiming into the backline to score on an overlap.

But O'Gara, who replaced Irish top point scorer David Humphreys for the match, kept the Irish in touch with a simple penalty goal in the 16th minute to narrow the gap to 8-3.

In the enclosed arena of the roofed Docklands Stadium, play was unaffected by both rain and wind. But the kickers still had a difficult night, with Flatley missing three kicks at goal and O'Gara bombing three place kicks and a drop goal.

Ireland narrowed the halftime deficit to five points when O'Gara earned a straightfoward penalty goal after a period of sustained pressure in the Australian quarter.

Both teams were reduced to 14 men in the 40th minute after Australian fullback Rogers was found to have made a professional foul within his own 10 meters, while Ireland winger Horgan was penalized for applying his boot to Rogers' head in the ruck.

Flatley moved the scores to 14-6 in the 45th, but Ireland reeled the deficit back to 14-13 after O'Driscoll beat winger Wendell Sailor to storm over for a try in the corner that O'Gara easily converted.

Another Australia penalty goal minutes later pushed its lead back to four points.

But the Wallabies were forced into desperate defense as Ireland maintained a sustained attack. It was rewarded in the 68th minute when O'Driscoll made a drop goal that again narrowed the gap to one point. Replacement flyhalf Humphreys attempted a field of his own in the 76th minute, which sailed just wide of the posts.

Played in the southern city of Melbourne, which is not a traditional rugby center, the crowd of 54,206 was split reasonably evenly between Australian and Irish fans. And while the green clad Irish fans spurred their team on with their rendition of "the Fields of Athenry," the Australians were happy to reply with strains of "Waltzing Matilda."

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