Ireland produced a significant improvement on last Saturday’s performance against New Zealand but it was not enough to prevent them from crashing to the second defeat of their autumn schedule.
Eddie O’Sullivan’s men were desperate to atone for the 45-7 blitz by New Zealand, but while they took a step in the right direction they still came up short against Australia.
A brace of second-half tries from winger Drew Mitchell and one from Chris Latham saw the Wallabies power to victory and end their seven-match losing streak, to ease the pressure on coach Eddie Jones.
The game was marred by worrying scenes in the 18th minute when veteran lock Malcolm O’Kelly was stretchered off with his neck in a brace following a ferocious double hit from Lote Tuqiri and Hugh McMeniman.
But there was some good news for Ireland, who crossed through Shane Horgan, in the shape of a promising debut from Ulster centre Andrew Trimble, who looked comfortable on his first outing in the Test arena.
Ireland put points on the board when Ronan O’Gara found touch and the home side drove the ensuing lineout some 15 metres before referee Chris White punished Australia and the Munster fly-half made no mistake with his kick.
Australia battered away at their opponents’ line in the 26th minute and when Ireland strayed offside, giving Matt Rogers his first kick at goal which he gratefully accepted.
Some Latham back-chat put a penalty chance in O’Gara’s range and the fly-half sent his kick between the posts.
Rogers was given a chance to level the score early in the second half after Ireland were caught holding the ball in the tackle and the former rugby league star slotted the three points.
Australia then scored on the counter with the television match official required to decide whether Mitchell had grounded the ball correctly after being shoved over the line by his team-mates.
Rogers converted and then saw a switch in his opposite number with David Humphreys replacing O’Gara, and the Ulster fly-half coolly completed the first shot at goal he was given in the 59th minute.
Ireland were trailing just 13-9 going into the final quarter but a dropped pass was punished as Latham surged through tackles from David Humphreys and Jonny O’Connor and outstripped the Irish cover on his run to the line.
Rogers converted but his side were hit by the sin-binning of George Smith for a bad challenge on Peter Stringer.
However, the shortage in manpower made no difference as Mitchell beat off tackles from Trimble, Tommy Bowe and Shane Horgan to score in the corner after Humphreys’ loose pass was intercepted.
Rogers added the extras but Ireland had not given hope of scoring a try and Horgan obliged in the 77th minute after Geordan Murphy had supplied the telling pass, giving Ireland’s defeat some respectability on the scoreboard.