Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Joe's boys can tame Wallabies new breed

Taken out: Australia's Nick Cummins is stopped  by Luke McLean of Italy last weekend
Taken out: Australia's Nick Cummins is stopped by Luke McLean of Italy last weekend

To some it might seem a twisted kind of logic but the best result of the inter hemisphere internationals from an Irish perspective didn't come at Lansdowne Road but in fact at the Stadio Olimpico, Turin.

Not for a minute are we suggesting the seven-try, 50-point thumping of an Italian side that turned us over back in March will see the Wallabies pitch up at the Aviva expecting to win as a matter of course but certainly in terms of public perception this result and the timing of it serves Joe Schmidt and Irish rugby well.

Having performed so poorly when going under to England the previous weekend the immediate feeling – pending Ireland's performance against the Samoans – was of a 'big three' southern hemisphere scalp there for the taking.

Well it is still there and certainly can be taken but despite a highly promising second-half in Dublin the result and level of Wallaby performance against the Italians serves as a timely reminder as to just how potent this still emerging Australian squad (under Ewen McKenzie) can be.

Players like Israel Folau (pictured) – what a talent and for those yet to see him play you're in for a treat – Adam Ashley-Cooper, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen, Will Genia and (whisper it) Quade Cooper are all world class or at least potentially so. Right now not too many Irish trip off the tongue in a similar vein.

Both camps are similar in terms of squads in transition under new management regimes and for that reason alone something's got to give at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Certainly logic and I guess common sense dictates that of the two massive challenges coming our way this is the more manageable and certainly more winnable given where world rugby is now at.

In ranking terms it is New Zealand, South Africa and England the top three (Australia lie fourth) in that order but in broad terms it is the All Blacks and Springboks way out in front and then some distance behind come the rest.

The manner of the victory over the Samoans was anything but perfect, but the win in itself was paramount. To post a record score in the fixture including five unanswered tries was a bonus but in the cold light of day everyone involved is sensible enough to appreciate and more importantly separate the euphoria of the moment from reality.

There were very real positives to build upon going forward or to borrow from top economist and informed rugby fan Eddie Hobbs "very definite green shoots of recovery".

Ireland under Schmidt is much the same as Australia under McKenzie – a squad in transition and a work in progress. Both will harbour winning aspirations but despite playing away from home, the pressure is more in the gold corner than green.

That said, behind closed doors I will be astonished if Schmidt, Les Kiss, John Plumtree et al haven't targeted this as the 'can win' game to make the Autumn series a success irrespective of the bottom line result in the final match, although beat the Wallabies and we'll leave that analysis for reassessment afterwards.

But for now, one hurdle at a time and if nothing else the arrival to their south Dublin headquarters of an under-fire Wallaby squad collective confidence buoyed up significantly by Saturday's win and the comprehensive nature of it. For Ireland the first objective has been achieved and, despite a ragged and disjointed first-half, with quite a bit to spare in the end.

On the casualty front a hamstring tear has ruled Chris Henry out of the remaining games at least, while Tommy Bowe was due to undergo a scan for tightness in his lower leg.

If he is deemed fit then Bowe's inclusion will be automatic whereas a fit Henry's involvement would have been realistically off the bench. For Schmidt, this declaration will represent his full hand. Unlike Samoa, for the Australian challenge there is no room for manoeuvre.

To that end Rob Kearney will be at full back flanked by Bowe and Fergus McFadden on the wings. Keith Earls could well come back into the mix but if Bowe is unavailable then it should be on the right not the left.

The case for Dave Kearney too is strong, but were the call mine it would be Bowe or Earls on the right with McFadden retaining his place on the left.

In the centre Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll should be reunited alongside Jonny Sexton. This is not a game for experimentation so if that means an all Leinster backline from ten out, with the exception of one wing, then so be it.

At scrum-half, Conor Murray had a quiet but efficient hour and should start again despite Eoin Reddan's dynamic final quarter input. By then the groundwork had been laid.

Up front, Cian Healy should, and I suspect will, come in at loose head where Jack McGrath has certainly made his mark as a ready made replacement in waiting.

Rory Best and Mike Ross will make up a formidable Irish front row from whom much will be expected against James Slipper, Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander. If we can win that essential battle then anything and everything is on.

The second row, save for the enforced absence of Bowe, is the only area in need of address and perhaps the burning of some midnight oil. Devin Toner did his cause no harm whatsoever by way of an efficient 80 minutes but for sure it will be Paul O'Connell wearing five along with the captain's arm band as well. Mike McCarthy is gradually coming back to full fitness and should line out alongside O'Connell.

The backrow picks itself with Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip a combination with the potential to match any comparable unit anywhere and for sure over the next two weekends that assertion will be tested. McGrath, and Toner would then join Sean Cronin, Declan Fitzpatrick and Reddan on the bench leaving it a call between Ian Madigan and Paddy Jackson for back up out-half and between Madigan, Earls and Kearney for utility cover while Kevin McLaughlin would appear to offer the best skill set to cover the back and second rows in an emergency.

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