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Ireland v Australia: Irish defence must tighten up to finish the year on positive note

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Andy Farrell has enjoyed his honeymoon period with Ireland, soaking up the plaudits as the team showed all-round improvement in the six games since he arrived on the scene.

On Saturday, he will face the Wallabies for the first time since Michael Cheika's team cut a swathe through his England defence and condemned the hosts to their home World Cup exit just over a year ago.

That result effectively ended Farrell's involvement with his home nation, but his reputational rehabilitation is continuing apace across the Irish Sea.

He has come into the job for an unprecedented run of fixtures. Five of his first six games have been against South Africa or New Zealand, with the seventh against Australia. Ireland's defence will rarely be tested as frequently.

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Over the six games, including the fixture with Canada, they are averaging three tries conceded a match.

After losing last weekend's game to New Zealand 21-9, conceding three tries and scoring none, the focus at Carton House has likely centred on attack.

But for all of the progress Farrell has made, he will surely want to clamp down on the tries conceded as the team evolves towards 2019.


Former Wallaby Stephen Larkham is an astute coach and it shows in his side's play.

A mercurial out-half in his day, the assistant coach has put together a clever attacking plan that is easy on the eye and effective to boot. Australia pack a range of threats, particularly off the set-piece where they love to attack at pace.

Although they struggled early in the year, Cheika's side have found their rhythm and when Wales sat off them three weeks ago they punished them ruthlessly.

Scotland were opened up a couple of times, but their line-speed upset Bernard Foley's arm-chair ride.

That's Farrell's speciality and after his side failed to bring their aggression to the party early on last weekend and played catch-up as a result, there will be a reinforcement of his message in the coming days.

"He's modified the defensive system," Brian O'Driscoll said of Farrell. "He's changed it where it is clear as daylight the aggressive line-speed and taking time away from opposition. You need to do that.

"If you stand off any good team in the world, they make you pay. Talking to one or two of the boys, he's a brilliant speaker and motivator, but, technically, he's an excellent coach as well. You can see he's got them excited about defending, about using defence as an attacking mode rather than just being excited about having the ball in your hand."

Under Farrell, Ireland have made 89 per cent of their tackles, limited opponents to 3m per carry and six clean breaks a game, so they'll want their try-count to match up to those figures.


The Australians take risks with ball in hand and Ireland have traditionally attempted to take advantage of teams who like a 50-50 pass.

Farrell and head coach Joe Schmidt will identify the players who are more likely to take a chance and hope to exploit any inaccuracy and force errors.

With plenty of ball-carrying power, the Australians will look to get gain-line advantage and free their hands, with Israel Folau, Tevita Kuridrani, Sekope Kepu and Rory Arnold among the players who will look to win a collision and free their hands.

Ireland will hope to destabilise the ball-carrier and capitalise on any error.


Ireland's back-row got the better of the New Zealand three last week, but David Pocock and Michael Hooper present a different challenge.

With CJ Stander likely to come back into the team, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip may take responsibility for negating the twin-fetching threat deployed by Cheika.

O'Brien got through a mountain of work on his return to action last weekend and it will stand to him at the Aviva Stadium, while Heaslip was outstanding on both sides of the ball.

Australia thrive on quick ball at set-piece and in open play and Ireland need to slow them down.


Ireland haven't failed to score a try under Schmidt very often and they will rarely engineer as many opportunities as they managed against New Zealand and not score again.

This weekend, they will look to apply pressure the same way; through field position, set-piece dominance and discipline, but they can add more kicking to their attacking strategy as Scotland did when unlocking the Australians two weeks ago.

Ulster's Paddy Jackson is back at No.10 and knows the game plan. A week in the jersey should have him better prepared for the task than coming off the bench last week.

Ireland need to add something extra in the opposition '22' where the defensive line becomes better populated and they tend to look to bash their way over the line.

Against New Zealand, their accuracy let them down and they'll need to be on the money this time to finish 2016 on a high.

Belfast Telegraph


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