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Andy Farrell admits Ireland have “a lot to do” ahead of next year’s World Cup after ending a stellar 2022 with an unconvincing 13-10 win from a disjointed “dogfight” against Australia.
Replacement fly-half Ross Byrne marked his late elevation to the bench by landing a tricky 77th-minute penalty to earn the below-par Irish a record-equalling 12th successive home victory.
Farrell’s men struggled for large parts of a gruelling Dublin evening and could easily have ended their autumn campaign with a serious reality check at the hands of opposition beaten by Italy just last weekend.
The hosts lost captain Johnny Sexton to a calf injury before kick-off, resulting in 22-year-old deputy Jack Crowley being thrust into the number 10 jersey on his first Test start and eventual matchwinner Byrne being added to the matchday squad.
Victory for the world’s top-ranked side saw them become the first nation to defeat New Zealand, South Africa and the Wallabies in a calendar year since England in 2002.
“It was never in doubt,” joked head coach Farrell.
“We can pull it apart and we will do and we will learn from all sorts of aspects of the game. But the bigger picture stuff for me is there’s two things that went on there.
“Australia made it an absolute dogfight and fair play to them, they were courageous in how they went about their game. It was abrasive to say the least, certainly at the breakdown.
“But for us to back up a few ill-disciplined bits and a few errors technically, tactically and still find a way is a hallmark of a good side.
“That’s what all good sides do, you always find a way in the heat of the battle and we’re delighted in that regard.”
Asked where Ireland stand going into 2023, Farrell replied: “With a lot to do, which is great, and that’s the reality.
“We’ve certain aspects of our game, as always, that we’d love to get better at.”
Influential skipper Sexton pulled out injured following some pre-game kicking practice.
Crowley, who wore the number 10 shirt embroidered with Sexton’s name, landed a penalty to give Ireland a 3-0 half-time lead before converting Bundee Aki’s 66th-minute try.
Byrne then marked his first international appearance since the 2021 Six Nations by slotting the decisive three points after Jordan Petaia’s converted score brought the Wallabies level.
“It’s awesome for him,” Farrell said of Byrne. “I was absolutely delighted for him.
“You know Ross’ temperament, it’s made for him that type of situation where it’s deadlocked.
“It was a tough enough kick when the penalty came but there was no doubt in Ross’ mind that he was ever going to do anything but go for the three points, so fair play to him.
“He’s waited for that chance and he delivered it and got us over the line.”
Australia produced a spirited response to their embarrassing loss in Florence and came very close to upsetting the majority of a sold-out Aviva Stadium crowd.
The Wallabies, whose other five points came from the boot of Bernard Foley, were briefly reduced to 13 men after the departures of hookers Dave Porecki and Folau Fainga’a to injury and the sin-bin respectively led to uncontested scrums.
Head coach Dave Rennie said: “It was gutsy, we hung in the fight, a fair bit of adversity tonight.
“Obviously we ended up having to play with 13 at one stage, so there was a huge amount of character.
“But frustration because we had our opportunities. I’m gutted for the boys because it was very winnable.
“They’re a high-quality side and we had chances early that we need to sting them with. We played a lot of good footy tonight but not a lot of reward.”