IRELAND CAPTAIN PAUL O’Connell was satisfied with the manner in which Ireland closed out today’s 26 – 23 Test victory over Australia, but found plenty of room for improvement in the first half.

Though Joe Schmidt was absent from the post-match discussion, the skipper certainly followed on a common theme of the head coach. The Kiwi had complained about the concession of a late try in the win over the Springboks a fortnight ago, and with supporters still haunted by the last-gasp loss to New Zealand a year ago, O’Connell singled out the final part of the performance as the one that pleased him most.

“We were a lot happier with the way we finished,” said the second row, “I think it’s something we haven’t done. Between the New Zealand game, France and South Africa two weeks ago, we haven’t finished a game well.”

Eking out a tight victory in the second half after the free for all in the opening 40 was made all the more pleasing to the 35-year-old due to the quality of the opposition. And with the Green and Gold bench able to unleash Will Genia, Will Skelton, Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale, there was no let-up from Michael Cheika’s side.

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“For us to be able to defend the way we did and not give them any easy outs it was very satisfying. Certainly from that point of view, from the South Africa game, the France game, that’s an improvement and a step forward.”

The obvious problem with Ireland’s latest win over a southern hemisphere super power was that the home side managed to squander their lead so quickly after racking up 17 points in the opening 16 minutes.

“They’re not just a clever team,” O’Connell said of the Wallabies, “they’re actually really big and really fast as well. They hurt us.

After Ireland carded notably low offload stats so far this month – including a zero against South Africa – Simon Zebo’s failed attempt to pass out of a tackle was notable even before Nick Phipps punished the error with the Wallabies’ opening try.

“We’ll back our players to play what they see,” said defence coach Les Kiss.

“We still could have made the tackles that mattered in that moment. Certainly we’re not about being frivolous with the ball, but we also back our players to play if we see the opportunities.