Ireland clinch 3-match series with 20-16 win vs Australia

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Ireland's Peter O'Mahony, center, holds up the Lansdowne Cup as he celebrates with teammates following their win over Australia in their rugby union test match in Sydney, Saturday, June 23. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony, center, holds up the Lansdowne Cup as he celebrates with teammates following their win over Australia in their rugby union test match in Sydney, Saturday, June 23. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Sydney (AP) — Six Nations rugby champions Ireland capped an outstanding season with a contentious 20-16 win Saturday over Australia to clinch the three-test series 2-1.

A ground-record 44,085 fans at Sydney Football Stadium watched as Johnny Sexton kicked his fifth penalty goal of the evening to clinch the match with two minutes to go.

It was Ireland’s first series win in Australia since 1979.

French referee Pascal Gauzere was at the center of a number of controversial decisions, including the decisive match-ending call.

Trailing by four points in the 80th minute after Tolu Latu was penalized for not releasing and Sexton added another penalty, the Wallabies — needing a try to win — regained the kick restart.

With space out wide, the Wallabies spread the ball to the right, but Bernard Foley’s offload failed to find his target and went into touch.

But appeals for a deliberate knockdown by Ireland winger Jacob Stockdale saw Gauzere send the play to his video match official — Australian George Ayoub — who after several minutes deemed video footage inconclusive, and the match ended.

“Some things didn’t go for us. You need a few things to go for you in a game,” Australia coach Michael Cheika said. “It could have gone either way. It was pretty tight. It was an electric atmosphere.”

Flanker C.J. Stander scored Ireland’s only try in the 45th before winger Marika Koroibete replied with Australia’s only five-pointer shortly after to cut the visitors’ lead to a point and set up a close finish.

Both sides played most of the match without their captains after Michael Hooper sustained a hamstring injury in the 16th and Irish flanker Peter O’Mahony had a concussion in the 30th.

An early Sexton penalty goal gave Ireland a 3-0 start. With Kurtley Beale controlling field position with clever tactical kicking and David Pocock dominant at the breakdown, the Wallabies nudged ahead 6-3 with two Foley penalties.

But Hooper limped off with his injury, and the weight of possession and territory shifted in Ireland’s favor.

Despite being a man down after Stockdale was yellow-carded for an elbow to Nick Phipps’ throat, Ireland regained the lead after two more Sexton penalties before the Wallabies had Israel Folau sent to the sin bin.

The video referee said Folau had unnecessarily “placed” his hand on O’Mahony during an aerial challenge, resulting in the Ireland captain landing awkwardly on his head.

In a tight series, both teams scored a total of 55 points. Ireland won the second test 26-21 after Australia took the opener 18-9.