Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Ireland v Australia: Time to stand up and be counted

Ireland Coach Declan Kidney looks at his notes during training earlier today at Eden Park, Auckland
Ireland Coach Declan Kidney looks at his notes during training earlier today at Eden Park, Auckland

Time to seize the day. If there was ever an occasion this old maxim applied to the Irish rugby team, this is it.

For 80 minutes against Australia in Auckland tomorrow there must be no ‘bigger picture', nothing left behind, everything on naked show in a game that will not alone define the Pool, but will determine the validity of any further Irish World Cup aspirations.

The ramifications of the Eden Park outcome will look after themselves, but in order for the 2009 northern hemisphere Grand Slam champions to win back the respect and credibility they have lost in the intervening period, this is the game and stage upon which they must deliver.

Skipper Brian O'Driscoll has put a heavy emphasis on the word ‘intensity' in the build-up and I share his views. Forget all the talk of game plans and the window dressing provided by pre-match claptrap, intensity is the key word. It is a level of high-tempo performance driven by personal pride and individual desire.

For whatever reason, this intensity has been the single biggest component lacking in the Irish side of late.

And if there is a very relevant blueprint for Declan Kidney's charges, then Warren Gatland's Wales provided it against South Africa in Wellington last weekend. It may not have reaped the reward it deserved but, in terms of where a group of players need to be at this World Cup, they set the bar at a lofty height.

Let us not mince our words, Ireland are a squad low on confidence but heavy on caps, cups and, of late, excuses.

However, contrary to popular opinion, we did not play badly against the Eagles but did lack the level of traditional Irish fire in the belly and physicality at the breakdown we normally take for granted.

To that end, Kidney has been loyal to what he still perceives as his tried and trusted to face the formidable Wallabies. With this in mind, he has named 13 of the 15 who demolished England at the Aviva back in March — Stephen Ferris for the injured David Wallace and Rob Kearney instead of Andrew Trimble are the changes.

In specific terms, there are three who owe the head coach a bit more than most. I am thinking here of Donncha O'Callaghan, Gordon D'Arcy and Keith Earls.

I accept O'Callaghan does much of his best work close in but, as a leader, we need him to be much more conspicuous in the loose.

For D'Arcy it's almost the opposite. We need those hard yards — that all-important forward momentum in midfield which he, through pure leg drive, probably manufactures better than any other centre in world rugby.

Along with O'Driscoll, we also need that grappling for possession at the tackle that makes the role of the roving seven — in this case Sean O'Brien — almost redundant and allowing him greater freedom to take the game to the opposition.

The selection of Earls is based on line-breaking potential over form and gives Trimble every right to feel aggrieved.

I understand where Kidney is coming from and here again I would dip into the Gatland formula against the Boks, which saw Shane Williams given carte blanche to make himself a menace wherever and whenever he deemed appropriate.

What we must not do, however, is get sucked into playing Australia the Australian way. We need far greater urgency and a much greater tempo.

If we can boss the fringe then, along with a solid set-piece, it is possible to stymie Wallaby possession at source, thereby making Will Genia, Quade Cooper, James O'Connor et al a lot less potent.

Kidney has opted for the individuals and units who have served him well in the past. Whether it is a loyalty misplaced, only this 80 minutes will tell.

For all the negative comment following last weekend's game, there is still that feeling of another England-type performance waiting to erupt. However, as each game since that one-off in March has passed, we're beginning to have our doubts in this regard.

We may not be in sudden-death territory just yet, but failure to perform in Auckland could result in the clash with Italy last up in Dunedin becoming the psychological monster we all feared.

We can afford to lose, but dare not fail to deliver an Auckland performance befitting the occasion.

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