Of all the June International test series, a mouth-watering prospect for rugby fans is Australia v Ireland (AUSvIRE). Last Word on Rugby contributor Meadhbh Lewis looks at this fascinating encounter.
The upcoming three-test tour of Australia by Ireland is a historic, mouth-watering prospect for rugby fans. A first-ever three test schedule ‘down under’ for an Irish side brimming with confidence face Australia after one of their most successful seasons in recent history.
They face an Australia team searching for form and confidence after a rocky few months both on and off the pitch. However, they are a side to be respected on their home turf, and there’s no doubt that this Irish team will be going in with their eyes wide open. Ireland, on the back of an undefeated season in the Northern hemisphere will want to use this tour as a statement that their Grand Slam was not just a team peaking at the right time. But of a team that is ready to compete on the World Stage at a consistent and high level.
And while they eye a series winning tour, there is no doubt that this is an opportunity for head coach Joe Schmidt to try new things with this squad. 15 months out from the Rugby World Cup in Japan, this tour provides a good opportunity to test new combinations, give players like Ross Byrne and Tadgh Beirne a ‘first taste of International rugby’. To develop some of the more inexperienced players announced in the squad. Names like John Ryan, Joey Carbery, Andrew Conway and even add more experience for the trailblazing Jacob Stockdale.
Mouth-watering prospect for rugby fans – AUSvIRE
Australia are far from their best but are a side to be very wary of, they, of course, are the last team to have beaten the All Blacks. While up front, their tight-five won’t strike fear into an Irish side, their backs will certainly cause headaches for the Irish defence. Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika will look to play an expansive game which will cause trouble the Irish defence that looked vulnerable at times when challenged out wide during the 6 Nations.
With powerhouses like Folau, Kurindrani, Koroibete and Hodge at their disposal and with the exciting Tom Banks named for the first time, Australia are capable of causing real damage. Banks, especially, will add another dimension to the attacking play and will certainly trouble a fatigued defence if he gets the chance. While Stockdale is a threat in attack for Ireland he can definitely be exploited on defence, and the Aussie’s will certainly look to target him.
Comments from Israel Folau (see above image) earlier in the week, suggests that the Australians will look to their kicking game and it’s a battle they are capable of winning; should they target Earls on the right wing. None of the Irish backs will be overconfident when faced with the freakish-skills of Folau in the air. An aerial game is a battle Folau rarely loses. However, a question remains as to whether the halfback pairing of Will Genia and Bernard Foley can deliver accurate, contestable ball on a consistent basis – like their Irish counterparts; of Conor Murray and Jonathon Sexton.
Deadly combinations within both sides
The key to an Australian win lies in fast ruck ball, and this will make the breakdown battle intriguing. Both sides possess some of the most lethal jacklers in World Rugby, one would imagine Tadgh Beirne, and Dan Leavy will combine in the Irish pack; Beirne perhaps poised for his international debut ahead of Devin Toner.
Yet these threats will be matched by the ‘deadly combo’ of Michael Hooper and David Pocock in the Australian back row. Highly experienced, and competing for ball in Super Rugby – one of the toughest competitions around.
They have also been bolstered by the addition of the promising back row Pete Samu – who has been released by the NZR – and there is no doubt that he will add a huge amount of doggedness to that backrow. If the Australians get turn over ball, one would imagine that their backs will punish any Irish mistakes. As will their long-range kicker Reece Hodge, who has the capability of delivering penalties from well inside his own half. However, it’s questionable if the Aussies can match the unrelenting Irish physicality.
With Jordan Uelesa ruled out through injury, Cheika may have to catapult the uncapped Brandon Paenga-Amosa into a starting spot, and with locks Rory Arnold and Ned Hanigan both unavailable for the first test, the set piece could prove challenging.
— Qantas Wallabies (@qantaswallabies) June 6, 2018
There are also question marks over the fitness level of Will Genia who hasn’t played since May due to a MCL injury and with Bernard Foley the only recognized 10 in the squad. Should either of their key halves get injured, the depth in the Australian squad will be sorely tested.
Israel Folau claimed earlier this week that he “doesn’t know much about Ireland” while young prop Tom Robertson is still expecting to face the injured Rory Best [who was ruled out of the tour with a hamstring injury last week]. So one would wonder the amount of preparation this Aussie side has done on the Grand Slam Champions? or, perhaps they’re playing mind games! (It’s hard to know in the professional era of rugby).
Ireland face Australia – Visitors bring warranted Confidence
There has been a noticeable shift in the attitude of this Irish squad over the last few years. The Irish have become a more arrogant team and are confident that they can compete and beat any team given the opportunity. Although it is the first test series they have played in Australia, this isn’t something that will faze this team.
Confident they have the upper hand in the pack, and with the likes of Peter O’Mahony and the towering Devin Toner available, they could make the Australian line-out a nightmare. Schmidt and his forwards coaches will savour the chance to put the inexperienced hookers under pressure. No doubt that the Irish will put huge emphasis on their kicking game, on which they get a huge return. But with Folau waiting in the wings [and fullback], any loose kicks will be punished. So the ever reliable halves cannot slip below their usual standards – nor can their replacements, which more than likely will be John Cooney. He has excelled at Ulster, and based on form should leapfrog Kieran Marmion for a position on the bench, with Joey Carbery outside him.
Ireland themselves have the potential to trouble the Australian defence, Schmidt is renowned for intricate plays linking backs and forwards which has the tendency to leave opposition defences ‘scratching their heads’ at times. The hosts will be well aware of the destruction that Jacob Stockdale can cause, when Ireland face Australia. A master of the intercept with pace to burn, but Jordan Larmour is a guy that; given the opportunity, will excel on this stage. He’s a young guy who punches above his weight in terms of physicality. And with his dancing feet and rapid acceleration, he could leave even the best of the Australian players for dead. Earlier, the havoc Tom Banks could cause fatigued defence was noted, but equally Jordan Larmour can do the same.
Social media back in Ireland will explode on Saturday, with the hashtag #AUSvIRE possibly followed by the words #cleansweep – as England did, in 2016. However, rugby fans and commentators cannot get too far ahead of themselves.
With the taste of success still fresh in the mouths of these Irish players, there is no doubt that they’ll be on the hunt. Should they sense any weakness in that Australian side, the ruthlessness of Sexton and Murray will happily taunt the host side. An first test win in Brisbane this Saturday is the start the Irish side will want.
Should they get past this first hurdle; and judging by all accounts and the recent form, it would be safe to assume that they might return home as series winners. And then surely ‘Irish eyes will be smiling’.
AUSTRALIA v IRELAND – Saturday June 9, Suncorp Stadium
“Main photo credit”
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