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Ireland v Australia inside track: Where key battles will be won and lost

Jonathan Bradley runs his eye over all the key battles and showdowns in today’s Autumn international

By Jonathan Bradley

Jonathan Bradley runs his eye over all the major players and all the showdowns in today’s Autumn international. He picks out those who will be the main men who will stand up and be counted in the heat of battle and focuses on the strengths and perceived weaknesses of both teams in action.

Head to head

Rob Kearney v Israel Folau

Both sides contain star fullbacks who seem sure to influence proceedings. Rob Kearney wins his 60th cap today with his calmness under the high ball, and ability to burst into the line from deep, making him a real asset for Joe Schmidt. Against South Africa, he was the best fullback on show in a game that featured Willie Le Roux so the Louth man won’t lack confidence.

His opposite number, Israel Folau, is an electrifying figure and is capable of breaking the gainline from anywhere. At 25 years of age, he remains relatively new to rugby union having also played league and Aussie Rules, but has been in unbelievable form since his code switch in 2012, scoring 17 tries in just 27 Tests.

Rory Best v Saia Fainga’a

Having appeared in Joe Schmidt’s first 10 starting line-ups, Best missed the last two Tests with a calf injury. If Ireland’s scrum is to get on top of its Australian counterpart then the hosts will need their hooker to be firing on all cylinders in the set-piece.Far more than just a scrummager, the Ulsterman must be accurate out of touch if the lineout is to fare better than it did against South Africa, while the assistance he provides at the breakdown will also be important.

Michael Cheika sends out Saia Fainga’a for his 35th cap and the 27-year-old Red will make his seventh start in succession. This is despite being considered the fifth choice hooker as recently as last summer. The former Brumbie has been making the most of his reprieve and will look to finish his season strongly.

Rhys Ruddock v Michael Hooper

With first-choice openside Sean O’Brien missing his 10th Test match in succession and his back-up Chris Henry now out for an unspecified length of time, Rhys Ruddock will once again don the green number seven jersey.

Despite only finding out he was starting against South Africa on the morning of the game, Ruddock was a try-scorer against the Springboks and put in an impressive display. However, the Leinster man remains a blindside by trade and, even with the help of Peter O’Mahony, Jamie Heaslip and Rory Best, he will need to excel if he is to disrupt Australia’s rhythm.

Only a few years ago, a long-term injury to David Pocock would have seemed disastrous for Australia but his replacement Michael Hooper has emerged as a quality player. Now captaining the side, Hooper had a field day on his last visit to the Aviva, scoring twice during the Wallabies’ comfortable victory 12 months ago.

The main threats

Australia possess talented gamechangers all over the park and newly installed coach Michael Cheika can field one of the most dangerous backlines in rugby.

Israel Folau would test any team in the world but he is not the sole threat. Henry Speight’s Wallaby eligibility has been highly anticipated thanks to a host of memorable tries for the Brumbies while Adam Ashley-Cooper is an accomplished wing.

Tevita Kuridrani is another strong runner. While the halfback pairing has been debated, Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps are on form and have the confidence of Cheika after their Super Rugby success under him with the Waratahs.

Ireland have momentum, and are ranked higher than their opponents after a memorable 12 months under Joe Schmidt. The success has been built around Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray and the pair will take advantage of any errors from the visiting defence.

The tactics

TWO of the best in the business, the battle between the two former Leinster coaches Joe Schmidt and Michael Cheika should prove fascinating.

Given the amount of creativity and pace in their backline, Australia play with what is perhaps a surprising patience. By moving through the phases in the early stages, they know that their players can wreak havoc against a tiring defence.

Their strong bench — Will Genia, Quade Cooper and Will Skelton are not in the starting XV — is also an asset in the closing stages.

Opting for a high risk/high reward style of defence, Australia will shoot out of the line with frequency and Ireland will have to take extra care over their passing.

While the visiting scrum is not as bad as reported, it still isn’t a match for the world’s best. Schmidt will be keen to establish the set-piece early but that has been an issue this month and will need to show improvement.

Stat attack

RORY Best, the only man in Ireland’s match-day 23 yet to feature this November during the Autumn internationals, returns from a calf injury today. The Ulster hooker is the 34th different player utilised by boss Joe Schmidt this month after the New Zealander gave some of his star players the day off for the win against Georgia last week following the opening victory against South Africa.

 

A bit of previous

IRELAND’S LAST SIX RESULTS:

Ireland 49 Georgia 7

Ireland 29 South Africa 15

Argentina 17 Ireland 23

Argentina 17 Ireland 29

France 20 Ireland 22

Ireland 46 Italy 7

AUSTRALIA’S LAST SIX RESULTS:

France 29 Australia 26

Wales 28 Australia 33

Barbarians 36 Australia 40

Australia 28 New Zealand 29

Argentina 21 Australia 17

South Africa 28 Australia 10

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