PREVIEW: Ireland v Australia

Fri, 25 Nov 2016 07:02
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Michael Cheika's rejuvenated Australia will bid to beat Ireland on Saturday and move to within one victory of emulating the legendary 1984 side's Grand Slam of the Home Nations.

Cheika admitted to AFP this week that he had had to reset to zero his Wallaby project this year after he realised the new faces were a bit lost having not been part of the group that reached the 2015 World Cup Final.

It certainly appears to have worked wonders as they have beaten Wales, Scotland and France in the past three weeks.

The 49-year-old coach knows Ireland well having guided Leinster in 2009 to the first of their three European Cup titles.

However, Australia face an Ireland side who are seeking to add the third of the Southern Hemisphere giants scalps to their list this year having beaten South Africa on their close season tour and then the historic victory over world champions New Zealand in Chicago three weeks ago.

Cheika, who was named World Coach of the Year for 2015 on the back of turning round a demoralised outfit when he took over in 2014, has declared his intent in recalling several of his heavy hitters, grizzled veterans from the World Cup campaign such as skipper Stephen Moore, who was brought up in Ireland before his parents emigrated.

"Maybe I went on ahead with too many different themes and tried to evolve those as opposed to understanding there were a lot of new guys and it was best to restart from zero and rebuild," Cheika told AFP.

"We did that and we began to feel a lot more comfortable."

Cheika, who is the only coach to win both the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere continental provincial competitions as he won the Super Rugby trophy with the Waratahs in 2014, will not countenance any talk of the Grand Slam saying the next match is the one that counts.

However, he has made it plain to his squad how tough it is to play at this time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere when the players from the Southern Hemisphere are feeling jaded after a long hard campaign including the Rugby Championship.

"We have our work cut out for us as they [the Irish] got closer to the All Blacks in those two games [the Irish lost to the All Blacks 9-21 last Saturday] than we did in the three we played against New Zealand," said Cheika.

"New Zealand are the standard bearer for the game at the moment."

The Wallabies, though, face an Ireland side that took a battering physically in the second match with the New Zealanders and lost key players in centre Robbie Henshaw and chief playmaker flyhalf Jonathan Sexton to injuries.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has replaced them with Ulster flyhalf Paddy Jackson and 21-year-old centre Garry Ringrose - both of whom fared pretty well against the All Blacks after coming on early last Saturday.

Schmidt, though, acknowledges that finishing on a high for this year is a tough ask.

"I'd like to think that we can finish really positively, in a similar vein, and it would be great to get the result; it would be a bit historic," said Schmidt.

"If we could get a result against Australia after getting a result in Cape Town and a result in Chicago, we could really say that we've got some kids that are coming through and that we're building something that will endure a little bit further into next year and the year after."

Players to watch:

For Ireland: Flank Christiaan Stander has been fantastic for Ireland this year and he gave the All Blacks a hard time in open play before he went off injured. Lock Devin Toner gives the Irish plenty of muscle up front, while hooker and captain Rory Best always leads by example and is another player who has really performed well in various aspects of play throughout 2016. In the backline, scrumhalf Conor Murray is one of the best in the business as the moment and is a key component in the Irish attack. On the bench, Josh van der Flier looks like an exciting prospect and he another player who impressed against the All Blacks last week.

For Australia: Centre Tevita Kuridrani has really lifted his game for the Wallabies on tour and his midfield partner Reece Hodge is a jack of all trades on the rugby field. Fullback Israel Folau is deadly with ball in hand will give the Irish problems if he gets plenty of ball. David Pocock and Michael Hooper will attack the breakdowns with ferocity and they are also a key part of Australia's defensive plans. Captain Stephen Moore is a hard worker and will do anything and everything to help his team get a win.

Head to head: Flyhalf Bernard Foley is a seasoned campaigner on the international stage and it will be interesting to see his personal duel with Paddy Jackson, who is often in Jonathan Sexton's shadow. All eyes will be on the two back rows as well - there is plenty of world-class talent amongst the six that are starting. However, Ireland seem to have the balance right in terms of their selections. And finally, the captains, Rory Best and Stephen Moore, are two of the best in their positions and provide much-needed guidance on the field, especially when the pressure is on.

Recent results: 
2014: Ireland won 26-23, Dublin
2013: Australia won 32-15, Dublin
2011: Ireland won 15-6, Auckland (WC Pool match)
2010: Australia won 22-15, Brisbane
2009: 20-all draw, 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 (WC Pool match)

Prediction: Ireland have shown what they are capable of during their two matches against the All Blacks. However, that last encounter would have taken a lot out of them and they are missing some influential players. Australia have shown signs of improvement with every game this year and they seem highly motivated to make history on this end-of-year tour. Australia will win by 10 points.

Teams:    

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Garry Ringrose, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Christian Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Simon Zebo.

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 Scott Sio.  
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 James Slipper, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Sefanaia Naivalu.

Saturday: Saturday, November 26
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 17.30 (17.30 GMT; 04.30 AEDT Sunday, November 27)
Expected weather: It will be mostly cloudy with a high of 8C and a low of 5C with a slight breeze.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com