Preview: Ireland v Australia
Fri, 15 Nov 2013 07:46
Can the Wallabies end their Dublin drought?
Australia are chasing their first back-to-back victories of 2013 and their first win over Ireland in Dublin in almost a decade.
Those two nuggets of statistics put in a nutshell the slide the two-time World Cup-winning Wallabies have been in this year - a season that has already seen them change coaches.
Ewen McKenzie, having taken over from the embattled Robbie Deans after the 1-2 series loss to the British and Irish Lions, has just three Ws to his credit - two wins against Argentina and last week's 50-20 triumph over Italy.
However, it is going to be a significant step up from seven days ago, as Ireland coach Joe Schmidt restored several of his big stars to the starting line-up for Saturday's one-off international.
Schmidt recalled British and Irish Lions quartet, Ireland captain Paul O'Connell, Cian Healy, Sean O'Brien and fly-half Johnny Sexton after they were either on the replacements bench or, in Sexton's case, rested entirely for last Saturday's 40-9 victory over Samoa.
It will be the first time in two years that O'Connell and fellow Irish great Brian O'Driscoll will start a match in an Irish shirt together largely because the skipper has had a succession of injuries.
Sexton comes in for Paddy Jackson while there is a fourth cap for Ulster centre Luke Marshall, who replaces the vastly-experienced Gordon D'Arcy - both Jackson and D'Arcy have been left out of the 23-man squad.
Schmidt, who will come face to face with one of the candidates he beat to the Ireland post earlier this year in Wallabies' handler Ewen McKenzie, said he was pleased with the line-up he and his coaching team had selected.
"It's a really good team and will help us put our best foot forward," he said.
"We will need to be on our guard as Australia are on an upward curve in which consistency in selection of late has helped.
"They scored 50 points last weekend against Italy and did the same to the Argentinians in Argentina [54-17 in October in Rosario] and there are not many sides who have managed to do that to the Pumas in their own backyard in recent times.
"If you do let them loose then they will do damage."
Schmidt, who was named as coach at the end of April replacing Declan Kidney who was sacked following a disappointing Six Nations.
McKenzie made some interesting selections of his own - with Tatafu Polota-Nau returning to the bench after a six-month injury enforced lay-off and three changes to the starting forward pack - which he hope would help nullify the combative breakdown focus Ireland was placing on the match.
"The breakdown is always a key area to any game, but Ireland has been especially vocal this week on the importance they are placing on attacking us there," McKenzie said.
"It will be important for us to be extremely accurate at the breakdown, but overall we've gone with a forward pack that is quite capable of dominating in that area, especially with one of our best operators in Scott Fardy coming back from injury.
"We'll be looking forward to the challenge and also to the opportunity of building some momentum by winning back-to-back games for the first time this year.
Those changes to the starting XV include back row forward Scott Fardy returning at blindside flank, prop Sekope Kepu receiving his second starting opportunity of 2013 at tighthead prop, and the versatile Rob Simmons reverting back to his more accustomed role in the second row.
Kepu comes into the starting line-up for fellow tighthead prop Ben Alexander, who was 'rested' (read axed) after a series of very poor scrumming performances, which also opens the door for Waratahs front row forward Paddy Ryan to receive his first Test opportunity of the year from the bench.
Ryan, 25, made his Test debut for Australia against France in Paris last year and has been a continually improving player for the Waratahs since playing his first Super Rugby match against New Zealand's Chiefs in 2011.
Polota-Nau missed almost half the Super Rugby season along with the British & Irish Lions Test series after breaking his arm, while a hamstring injury during the Rugby Championship delayed his return until now.
"It will also be exciting to see Tatafu back," McKenzie said.
"He's in very good physical shape and has worked hard since joining us for the year-end tour to pick-up the knowledge and detail of how we want to play the game.
"In terms of Ben Alexander, we've taken the advice of medical staff that the best option for him this week was to have a rest. We've listened to that advice and are now looking forward to seeing what Sekope and Paddy do with the opportunities they are being given."
The Irish mentor, Schmidt, also played down his selection changes - suggesting that neither Jackson nor D'Arcy were left out because of their performances against Samoa.
"We were delighted with Paddy and how he played against Samoa," said the 48-year-old New Zealander, who won two European Cups as coach of Leinster.
"He is unlucky not to be on the bench but we just feel that Ian Madigan offers us more in terms of cover as he can play at full back, centre and obviously flyhalf.
"Gordon has taken it really well. He is the ultimate professional and this week he has been taking Luke through his paces, helping him.
"This is what our aim is which is to build a squad of around 35 players all capable of playing in the starting XV.
"It had become a little narrow in terms of selection in the past few years."
McKenzie said it was a positive sign that he was able to name an unchanged backline for the third straight match of the year-end tour.
"It's pleasing that we are beginning to build strong combinations and partnerships in our backs, including those players on the bench and on the fringes, and we're expecting the more time they spend together the better they will be," he said.
"They've been able to find the try line quite a bit over the past month and you can sense they are feeling more comfortable and confident in each other and how we want to play the game.
"Still, we're under no illusion that these games are won up-front, and we'll continue to have high expectations that our forwards will provide us with a strong platform from which to play from."
Players to watch:
For Ireland: Rob Kearney talked a big game this week, so he will have to put up or enjoy the omelette on Saturday. Brian O'Driscoll will remain class and with his career coming to an end soon this will be a good chance to enjoy him against quality opposition. Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony will be key to the breakdown battle, while Paul O'Connell's physicality is vital.
For Australia: Israel Folau is always good value, Tevita Kuridrani has brought some midfield stability and Nick Cummins is one of those players that never gives up and you are guaranteed and least a couple of blistering breaks. Quade Cooper and Will Genia are also beginning to regain their best form.
Head to head: No Australian scrum can escape the spotlight, which means Mike Ross, Rory Best and Cian Healy (Ireland) will be determined to give their team an edge by putting doubts in the minds of the revamped Australian front row of Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore and James Slipper. Then there is the flyhalf battle - the structured nature of Jonathan Sexton (Ireland) against the off-the-cuff play of Quade Cooper (Australia).
2011: Ireland won 15-6, Auckland (World Cup pool match)
2010: Australia won 22-15, Brisbane
2009: Ireland and Australia drew 20-20, Dublin
2008: Australia won 18-12, Melbourne
2006: Ireland won 21-6, Dublin
2006: Australia won 37-15, Perth
2005: Australia won 30-14, Dublin
2003: Australia won 17-16, Melbourne
2003: Australia won 45-16, Perth
2002: Ireland won 18-9, Dublin
Prediction: It is significant that Australia last beat Ireland in Dublin in 2005. It doesn't mean they don't have a chance on Saturday. In fact they have a very good chance. However, the wet conditions could favour a home team that is always up for a good scrap. Ireland to edge the Wallabies - by less than 10 points.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Fergus McFadden, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (captain), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Kevin McLaughlin, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Rob Henshaw.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nic White, 22 Christian Leali'ifano, 23 Joe Tomane.
Date: Saturday, November 16
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 17.45 (17.45 GMT; 04.45, Sunday, November 17 AEDT)
Expected weather: Some drizzle around, with plenty of cloud cover. However, the heaviest downpour won't arrive till Sunday. Fresh winds. High of 10°C and a low of 5°C
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)
AFP & rugby365
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