Peter Bills' World Cup blog: Ireland's forwards must deliver
It has been lashing down with rain here in Auckland on and off for most of the past week. And that could have an effect on the outcome of this weekend’s big game, Ireland v Australia in Pool C.
Some of the showers have been extremely heavy and that may well make conditions for Saturday night’s match much more difficult.
It could help Ireland more than Australia, especially if it rains during the game. The big Irish forwards must play the game of their lives if they’re to establish the base from which the side could go on to victory. And a heavier pitch might be no bad thing for Declan Kidney’s men.
Put it this way. If the Irish forwards don’t front up and gain a measure of superiority, then I can’t see how Ireland are going to get past this Australian side. For the Wallabies have pace and danger all down their back line.
It should suit Ireland to play a tight, close-in sort of game in which they can pressurise opposition half-backs Will Genia and Quade Cooper. Brian O’Driscoll and his side need to get at the Australian No 9 and 10 and the best way they’re likely to be able to do that is by putting the Wallaby forwards under the hammer.
All easier said than done, of course, especially as the return of lock forward Dan Vickerman has significantly improved the Wallaby pack.
I’d be more confident of an Irish win if open side flanker David Wallace were there to contest the loose ball with Australia’s David Pocock. But Wallace isn’t around. Instead, he is injured back home, a victim of the crazy pre-World Cup warm-up schedule imposed by Kidney on his men.
Four matches was too much, a suspicion confirmed when Wallace was lost to the tournament in the final game. But for that Ireland would have a genuine open side to try and match the excellent Pocock.
Sean O’Brien will do his best and is sure to be competitive. But he isn’t a natural No. 7 and you can’t just learn the role in a game or two. It takes years.
Another concern would be midfield where I think Gordon D’Arcy has been very fortunate to hold onto his place. Kidney is gambling that the experienced Leinsterman will come good on the big stage but I wonder whether he still has it at this very highest level.
Dodging the showers, I went into Auckland today to chat to former Australian coach Eddie Jones about the game. Eddie, now coaching Suntory in Japan, is a wise observer of the scene and therefore you have to take note of the fact that he believes this Irish side still has one great performance left in it.
‘Mate’ he told me, ‘call it what you like, maybe one last hurrah. But Ireland’s players will know this is likely their biggest game of the tournament and I think they’ll be up for it. They could go close.’
Yes, they could. But only if a lot of players raise their game hugely from the performance against the USA last Sunday.
This is crunch time for Ireland, the game that will define their World Cup. Win it and they’ll take on a whole new perspective for the tournament. Lose it and a battle with the physical Springboks looms in the quarter finals. That would be tough to win and so will this one.
And there is another tough game to call this weekend, Wales v Samoa on Sunday. This could well decide which of the two countries qualifies from Pool D.
Wales have to win after losing by a point to South Africa, a win they threw away. So there is no room for error this time. But the Samoans look strong, confident and will be hugely physical. And remember 1991 when they beat Wales in the World Cup?
This one will also be a tough match for the northern hemisphere side.
Finally, England play Georgia on Sunday and we have to hope they at least play some rugby this time. Watch Toby Flood in the No. 10 jersey to see if he can get his back line moving.
Come on England, you can do much better than last weekend's shocker against Argentina.