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Rugby World Cup moments: Lynagh rescues Wallabies against Ireland in World Cup classic

It is not often that a Dublin rugby crowd is silenced but that was the case in 1991 when Australia beat the Boys in Green 19-18 in a thrilling and memorable World Cup quarter-final clash at Lansdowne Road.

Ireland looked to be on their way to the semi-finals after a hard-fought contest in which they scrapped for every ball and hit every tackle. 

Leading 18-15 with just six minutes remaining, the shock looked on but Wallabies legend Michael Lynagh had other ideas, and the events of those final few moments remain etched in Rugby World Cup folklore.

WhatRugby Union World Cup
WhenFriday 8th September - Saturday 28th October 2023
How to watchITV
OddsNew Zealand 5/2, France 3/1, South Africa 9/2, Ireland 5/1, Australia 10/1, England 11/1

Ireland came packing a punch

With Australia widely acknowledged as man-for-man the better side, the odds were stacked against Ireland, who realised they would need to utilise every trick in the book if they were to get the better of fearsome opponents.

Irish captain Philip Matthews quickly took matters into his own hands, literally, by landing a right hook on Wallaby No.8 Willy Ofahengaue in the first minute, sparking a brawl to let the Aussies know that Ireland weren't prepared to be pushovers.

And it kind of worked as Ireland held their own for most of the match, nullifying the threat of Australian legends such as Nick Farr-Jones, Lynagh, Tim Horan and Jason Little.

However, star winger David Campese proved too hot to handle, bagging two tries in customary fashion with deft footwork and blazing pace, which then allowed Lynagh to knock over two routine conversions to keep the Wallabies on top.

Lynagh takes a central role

Fly-half Lynagh, while part of Australia's so-called 'Holy Trinity' featuring himself, scrum-half Nick Farr-Jones and Campese, often played an unassuming role in the side, quietly going about his business while proving deadly at penalties and conversions.

Australia's World Cup preparations went well - the 1991 home test season was highly successful with crushing victories against Wales and England. 

Lynagh scored 35 points over the two games but for one of the only occasions in his career was openly critical of a coach, citing Bob Dwyer's seemingly erratic selections. 

Despite those easy wins, a great chance was missed to win the Bledisloe Cup when Lynagh failed with a last-minute penalty against New Zealand in the 6-3 second test defeat in Auckland. 

That loss served to refocus the side and Australia progressed smoothly through the early stages of the World Cup. Then, in the quarter-finals against Ireland, it very nearly all came unstuck when opposition flanker Gordon Hamilton scored a late try to send the Lansdowne Road faithful into raptures and dreaming of a monumental shock. 

However, skipper Farr-Jones was forced off injured and the Wallabies looked dead and buried until Lynagh took over control of the armband and the match.

Captain marvel stars for Australia

What happened next is the stuff of legend as Lynagh inspired a comeback of epic proportions. 

Australia were awarded a scrum 10 metres from Ireland's line with two minutes left. It was perfect territory for a drop-goal attempt that would likely take the match into 20 minutes of extra time.

Lynagh had other ideas, though, and decided to eschew that option and go for the try instead. From the scrum, the ball was flung right through the backs and taken by Campese 20 metres out and searching for a hat-trick. 

The winger was tackled  short but the ball popped up perfectly for Lynagh,who scooped it up to dive over in the corner, shattering Irish dreams.

The crowd, frantically excited moments before, went silent in disbelief and shock. The match Ireland had come so close to snatching had been snatched back thanks to a moment of bravery and magic from Australia's stand-in skipper, Lynagh.

He finished the match with a try, two conversions and two penalties but it was much more than that as his heroics had all but single-handedly guided his side to the semi-finals, where they beat the old enemy New Zealand, before finishing the job in the final with a victory over England.

Lynagh scored 911 points for Australia in an international career that spanned 11 years betweeen 1984 and 1995. He played for his country on 72 occasions and starred in many high-class fixtures.

Not many are remembered as well as his match-winning effort on a chilly October afternoon in Dublin, though, when he became one of only a few to bring a hush to a raucous home crowd.

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