(Reuters) - David Pocock returned to test rugby with a bang on Saturday to help Australia to a hardfought 18-9 win over Ireland in Brisbane and give the Wallabies a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
The openside flanker, who sat out 2017 on a sabbatical, scored Australia’s second try in the 72nd minute and was a constant menace at the breakdown as the Irish fell to a first defeat in 13 tests.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley scored the rest of Australia’s points at Lang Park with a try, a conversion and two penalties, the second of which gave Australia a two-point lead with 12 minutes remaining.
“We got that win tonight with attitude and some silky play and silky finishes,” said Australia skipper Michael Hooper, who led from the front as the hosts outmuscled the Irish at times.
“It was tough for us to get out of our area, but we did that well so I’m pleased.”
Irish flyhalf Joey Carbery, getting a rare start ahead of Johnny Sexton, kicked three penalties for the Six Nations champions in a tight match that will only whet the appetite for the remaining tests in Melbourne and Sydney.
“Every test match we play against each other is of incredible intensity and physicality and I thought it was the same again tonight,” said Ireland skipper Peter O’Mahony.
“I thought credit to Australia, they came out on top in a lot of physical battles.”
The match opened at a frenetic pace and it was Australia who got the first points on the board when Foley landed the first of his penalties in the second minute.
Hooper put in a huge hit on Carbery in the 13th minute but the flyhalf got back up, brushed himself off and levelled the scores from the kicking tee a minute later.
Prolific Irish winger Jacob Stockdale had to showcase his defensive skills in the 20th minute when he made a try-saving tackle on Marika Koroibete as his opposite number was charging for the line.
Carbery edged the tourists in front with his second penalty in the 26th minute and the Irish kicking from hand continued to keep the hosts penned in their own half.
The first try came in the 34th minute when the hosts finally got the ball out wide in the Ireland half with winger Dane Haylett-Petty and centre Samu Kerevi linking well on the left before Will Genia’s quick pass sent Foley over in the corner.
Foley was unable to convert so the hosts went into halftime 8-6 ahead but the Irish came out from the break firing and number eight CJ Stander soon stormed through the midfield and crossed the line only to be held up.
Ireland went through 19 phases from the ensuing five metre scrum before a Pocock turnover ensured the visitors would come away with no points.
Pocock was penalised in the 54th minute, though, and Carbery’s last act before making way for Sexton was to put Ireland 9-8 ahead.
Fullback Israel Folau thought he had given Australia the lead with a try just after the hour mark but play was called back for a foul brought to the attention of the referee by the TV official.
Australia would not be denied, though, and Foley slotted his second penalty after a scrum infringement before Pocock put the icing on the cake by flashing across the line from close range.
“He was outstanding,” Hooper said of his back row partner.
“He can do some great things over the ball. His presence on the field is fantastic.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Pritha Sarkar