A much deserved victory for the Wallabies occurred Saturday, and a first over Ireland in Michael Cheika’s reign. A thrilling test match which had it all; brutal physicality, sensational aerial play from Israel Folau, tenacious defence and of course, a breakdown masterclass from the returning David Pocock.
Joe Schmidt thrust some of Irish Rugby’s brightest talent into the starting line-up, including the introduction of 20 year-old Jordan Larmour into the fray for Keith Earls – who failed a HIA – so that the Irish team was littered with inexperience. It was an effort to gain benefit from form which did not get the desired result. But that’s no excuse.
The Irish attack looked blunt, aside from a well worked set-play which saw Earls try a chip past Folau. There was also one brilliant CJ Stander break early in the second half, yet the Irish had no answer to the unrelenting Aussie defence. Despite having 60% possession, Ireland couldn’t convert and perhaps felt that they didn’t get the ‘rub of the green’ from the referee. Several times, they were denied a five pointer: footage of Stander grounding the ball inconclusive, and with the TMO ruling out Kieran Marmion’s try (due to a non-visible knock-on). One can understand their frustration when the final whistle blew.
On Saturday the Aussies nullified the danger of Larmour and Carbery with ease, and defeated the Irish at their own game. Folau and Australia won the aerial game, out-classing Jacob Stockdale and Rob Kearney – who by his own standards was poor [an uncharacteristic handling error leading to Foley’s try]. The ability of the Wallabies to build phases, and with that, build pressure, meant the Irish defence eventually could’t cope with the fast play. Add to that, lacking the likes of Beirne and Leavy, Ireland had difficulty disrupting the flow of the Aussie possession.
The Wallabies have beaten the World’s No. 2 ranked side, Ireland. David Pocock starred for Australia, scoring a try and masterminding several turnovers at the breakdown, in the 18-points to 9 win. #9News pic.twitter.com/09YjYo0BJk
— Nine News Sydney (@9NewsSyd) June 9, 2018
That pressure eventually told with Pocock scoring the defining try that sealed an Australian victory.
The ‘Breakdown King’ is back
David Pocock’s first game back in an Australian jersey after a year long sabbatical, was nothing short of a masterclass. If he wasn’t winning the turnover, he was making a nuisance of himself and making the Irish forwards work hard. At times, it took three Irish players to clear him out at ruck time.
Surprisingly, it was eight turnovers apiece at full time but, the Wallabies took advantage of the referee and slowed the ball at most rucks. Observers know Ireland thrive off quick-ruck ball and by preventing this, the Wallabies negated the attack. One would expect next week’s referee to be wise to the Australian tactics – and they won’t get away with slowing the ball illegally in Melbourne.
But singularly, the ever present threat of Pocock and Hooper is something that Ireland will need to find a solution for. It is one thing to isolate him, but it is another task altogether, when he charged onto the ball within three meters of the line, to score the winning try.
Pocock physicality over the ball a Masterclass
The Australians were aggressive from the start, bone crunching hits on Carbery and Murray early on, laid the foundation for the rest of the game and got the crowd involved in a positive way. The Irish were driven back from the word go, and this was typified when the Irish went through 19 phases before Pocock eventually won a turnover penalty.
The Irish pack were immense for the most but, were put on the back foot because of the poaching ability of Hooper and Pocock. The hope that the Six Nations champions could judge Australia by Super Rugby form; matching Stander against a player like Pocock, was mis-judged – even with the massive effort from Munster loosie.
James Ryan was at his brilliant best and is establishing himself as one of the best lock’s in World Rugby. Peter O’Mahony plagued the Australian line-out an CJ Stander (see above) didn’t take a backward step, his work-rate as always was through the roof. Held-up over the line, it was near to his very best.
However, it was no match for the power and passion that the Australians brought.
Ireland possible changes ahead of Second Test
If fit, the introduction of Dan Leavy and Tadhg Beirne is a must for Ireland, if they want to counter-act the Pocock/Hooper effect. And while Carbery did well in the number 10 shirt, Jonathon Sexton will more than likely reclaim his starting 10 jersey, to add that experience to the backline.
If Joe Schmidt is looking to build for Japan, a risk must be taken on Andrew Conway. He has the class and ability to start in the 14 jersey, and can add a different dimension to the Irish backline. While defensively, his aerial game would be tested against Folau, his relationship with Conor Murray could tilt the kicking game in Ireland’s favour. His ability to claim box kicks can put Ireland on the front foot, and this has the potential to put the Australians on the back foot.
One more change is possible. Garry Ringrose is another player who should regain his starting position ahead of the second test. His attacking prowess and ability to read the game is something that the Irish will need, if they want to draw the series in Melbourne next weekend.
Unfortunately, Ireland suffered their first defeat in over a year. It was not what the traveling fans and supporters expected. To remedy this, Schmidt and his colleagues will have to shore-up their defence. To find some attacking creativity, if they want to convert a first win on Australian soil, since 1979.
Australia v Ireland – Saturday June 16, AAMI Park Melbourne
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