Ireland signed off from their Grand Slam season with one last high as they edged a tense decider 20-16 in Sydney to claim a first series win in Australia since 1979.
A record 44,085 crowd packed into Allianz Stadium for its final Test match, but there was no fond farewell for the Wallabies, who could not make their late pressure pay as Ireland hung on desperately at the end of a long campaign.
Referee Pascal Gauzere and his television match official Ben Skeen were central figures until the death, reviewing the last play several times before deciding that Jacob Stockdale was not guilty of deflecting Bernard Foley’s pass before it flew into touch. At the end of three absorbing games, it was a cliff-hanger finish.
The Six Nations Grand Slam champions needed the boot of Johnny Sexton to steer them through a scrappy but compelling contest.
Ireland started by taking the lead after eight minutes as Sexton punished Adam Coleman for not rolling away before two Foley kicks gave the hosts the lead.
Sexton equalised then – after Australia lost Israel Folau for ten minutes for playing Peter O’Mahony in the air off the kick-off – the Leinster man made it 9-6.
With Stockdale yellow-carded for leading with his forearm, a further exchange of panelties saw Ireland lead 12-9 at half time before CJ Stander’s try at the start of the second half was cancelled out by an excellent score by Marika Koroibete.
The Irish defence held firm as Australia sought to harness the momentum of Koroibete’s try.
There was still time after Sexton’s fifth and final penalty for the home side to stage one final, desperate attack but Foley’s wayward pass missed its target and rolled out of play just as the clock turned red.