Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said his team’s series win in Australia was on a par with their Grand Slam success.
The Six Nations champions bounced back from an opening loss in Brisbane to level up in Melbourne and clinched the series with a 20-16 victory over the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday.
Ireland won 10 of their 11 games in the 2017/18 campaign, but they saved one of their gutsiest displays for last as Michael Cheika’s men threw the kitchen sink at the tourists but came up just short.
A decision by television match official Ben Skeen late in the game went Ireland’s way as he decided Jacob Stockdale had not knocked on Bernard Foley’s pass, and the visiting players were able to celebrate the team’s first series win over one of the southern hemisphere’s big three since 1979.
Schmidt was delighted with the way his team got over the line.
“It’s up there,” he said of the win, in comparison to Ireland’s other achievements this term.
“I think they are a super team. To be in their back yard and manage to sneak off with the Lansdowne Trophy is a little bit special for us, especially on the back of a pretty long season.
“It is a credit to players, they dug in just well enough. I’m pretty pleased there is not a game next week – that might have been a bridge too far.
“But the Wallabies are going in the other direction, they have got fuel in the tank and I think they are building.
“I’m sure ‘Cheiks’ is pretty happy with some of what they’re doing, particularly in that second half.”
Having talked to heroes of the 1979 side, Schmidt was fully aware of the historical context of his team’s victory.
“It’s big for us because we don’t do that very often and it was 39 years ago. I did have a good chat to a couple of the guys who did it last time. Ollie Campbell is a guy I’ve got huge respect for,” he said of the former Ireland fly-half who starred on that tour.
“We had a bit of a chat about it. He’s such an enthusiast and his confidence was brimming that we could do it.
“I didn’t quite share the confidence at the time because I knew how tough it was going to be and that was evident in those final minutes, not just tonight but last weekend as well.
“They were coming in waves and we managed to keep them out as well. I feel that potentially we were a little bit fortuitous and the margins are so fine. I didn’t think we were far off in Brisbane either. It’s been a fantastic series.”
Ireland achieved their victory despite losing four players to injury after the second Test and hooker Sean Cronin on the eve of the deciding game.
And when the team bus was delayed by more than 20 minutes as a result of a changed route, it brought back memories of Ireland’s defeat in Murrayfield last season when they were held up in traffic and started slowly.
He was happy with how they responded to adversity this time around.
“It’s good for the team, I think there are always things that are going to come at you from different sides,” Schmidt said.
“Sometimes that sort of thing happens, you have got to be able to take it in your stride.
“Most teams have a real rhythm in how they build to a game, when that gets disrupted it can be a little bit of a distraction.
“But it’s the first time in the series that we’ve scored the first points. So, we got off to not too bad a start.”