Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Rugby World Cup: All Ireland need is a lucky break

Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip relaxes yesterday with a game of pool at the Puma Village in Auckland

The highlights reel showing ‘Ireland's greatest World Cup moments' is pretty brief. In truth, there is just one — when Jack Clarke set up Gordon Hamilton for that glorious try in the 1991 quarter-final at Lansdowne Road.



John Eales was playing in the Australian second-row that day and when Hamilton crashed over for what looked like the winning score, his first thought was: “What about my dry cleaning?”

Tournament rules decreed that once a team was eliminated they had to depart the following day. The next day was Sunday and Eales' dry cleaning would not be ready to collect until Monday. Luckily for Eales, Michael Lynagh pounced in the last minute to end Irish hopes and the dry cleaning was safely recovered as the Wallabies went on to claim the title.

Ireland and Australia have a lot of history at this tournament. Tomorrow's clash will be their fifth World Cup encounter, which is unusual when you consider that the Irish have never faced England, South Africa, Fiji or Samoa.

Eales-style Aussie doubt has not been a regular feature of the sides' World Cup encounters.

They wiped the floor with Ireland in 1987 and 1999 and though Brian O'Driscoll and his team put it up to the Wallabies in their 2003 pool game, Australia never really expected to lose in front of their home crowd in Melbourne.

That's the thing about Australians; particularly in sport, self-belief is rarely an issue and tends to be accompanied by large dollops of arrogance, which is certainly the case ahead of this Eden Park encounter.

The Aussie media know O'Driscoll and make loose assumptions about Ronan O'Gara's non-selection but, for the large part, they are not too bothered by individual Irish players.

Sean O'Brien's inclusion at openside was reported yesterday as coming about because of injury to Paul Wallace, who hasn't played international rugby for a decade, instead of his absent brother David.

And this lack of concern about the Irish team extends to the Wallaby players also. They have been trotting out the usual platitudes on O'Driscoll but, beyond that, they struggle with the Irish names.

Yesterday's jam-packed Press conference in the Crowne Plaza in Auckland did the Aussies few favours. Before a barrage of TV cameras and microphones, coach Robbie Deans sat alongside James O'Connor, Rocky Elsom, Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale to field an extended list of questions, and nobody seemed overly interested in the Irish.

With the honourable exception of Leinster Hall of Famer Elsom, who spoke thoughtfully, if briefly, about the threats Ireland pose, the top table produced a collection of monosyllabic answers, contemptuous smiles and barely concealed disdain for the media.

O'Connor came across as a smart-arsed brat. The youngster had been punished by Deans and pilloried by the Press for missing the official squad an

nouncement a few weeks ago due to a late night out, but that was no excuse for his display of petulance yesterday when questioned about his return to the team following an incident of his own making.

Cooper was marginally better when asked about his role as public enemy number one in New Zealand, but Deans, who has had a continual battle with an Australian media who have never been wholly comfortable with a Kiwi at the helm, came across as the frostiest.

It made for a tetchy, tense affair and was in stark contrast to the Irish camp this week. After a run of poor performances, Ireland are under considerably more pressure than the Wallabies and received a wallop of criticism (some fair, some over the top) following their disappointing opening win over the USA.

Yet they have fronted up willingly for their media duties and coach Declan Kidney has exhibited no Deans-like edge, even when goaded by Australian questions such as: “So, have you picked your strongest team against the Wallabies?” (Do they think Ireland are holding players back for the Russia game?).

This job requires objectivity, particularly in the event of putting the boot in if Ireland's World Cup goes pear-shaped, but it is very hard to stay impartial in the face of Aussie arrogance.

Despite the off-hand, token compliments, it is clear the Wallabies do not rate Ireland. And after beating the All Blacks, claiming the Tri-Nations and producing the most impressive opening performance of the World Cup contenders, they simply cannot conceive the possibility of losing tomorrow, adhering to the default Australian position of “no worries, mate.”

It would be wonderful if Ireland could give them something to worry about.

Meanwhile, Sean O'Brien (pictured) is refusing to concede the ground war to David Pocock when Ireland and Australia collide at Eden Park.

O'Brien has been selected out of position at openside for the pivotal Pool C showdown after David Wallace was ruled out of the World Cup with a knee injury.

The 24-year-old's explosive ball-carrying last season saw him crowned European player of the year, but he is more comfortable at number six.

It is a big challenge to take on the brilliant David Pocock. But O'Brien insists he will go toe-to-toe with the Wallaby when possible.

“I'll just go out there and play the way I usually do and hopefully that'll be enough.

“I've seen plenty of Pocock and he's a world-class player. He's in form and is a big threat

“If the chance arises and I think it's the right decision I'll go in to compete with him. We'll have to combat them getting that quick ball and preventing them from getting on the front foot.

“You want to test yourself against the best and the Wallaby back row is perceived to be the best at the moment.”

O'Brien will be making his World Cup debut after missing last Sunday's opening 22-10 victory over the United States with a knee injury.

“Australia feels like one of the biggest games of my career.

“It's my first World Cup game,” he said.

“There isn't a feel of tension around the camp, it's more one of excitement,” O’Brien added.

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