5 Dec, 14:49
The Ireland Under-19 squad to face Australia Schools at Ravenhill on Saturday week (December 14) has been announced.
New Western Force signing Drew Mitchell will start on the left wing, replacing Gene Fairbanks, having recovered from the fractured jaw he sustained at a training camp last month. Both the positional switches are in the backs with another Western Force player Scott Staniforth being moved from the right wing to inside centre and Morgan Turinui of the Waratahs, who also lined out on the wing against the Ospreys, joining him in midfield.
There is a completely new front row with Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore and Rodney 'Rodzilla' Blake taking over from Nic Henderson, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Guy Shepherdson, while Hugh McMeniman and George Smith make way in the back row for Scott Fava, a regular number 8 who is set for blindside duties, and Stephen Hoiles. Moore is a late change as Tai McIsaac was originally down to start at hooker.
The Wallaby management are sticking with Mark Gerrard at out-half despite his inexperience in the position and his less-than-impressive display in Swansea. The Brumbies flyer has played at Test level either on the wing or at centre. John Muggleton said: "Last game we threw Mark a bit to the wolves at number 10. We asked him to play the Wallabies' style, rather than to his strengths.
"He has a good kicking and passing game. He's a great runner of the football so we'd like to see a little bit more direct play this time around. We have to play to his strengths, rather than possibly a game Mat Rogers or Stephen Larkham would play."
He added: "The selection of two experienced centres (Staniforth and Turinui) is a good idea as well because we want the calls to come from the outside. We don't want Mark, as an inexperienced number 10, to have the responsibility for running the team, making the calls on the run, and then kicking as well.
"We have selected a team which works more to helping Mark out, taking a bit of pressure off him, and seeing if we can get the best out of him."
With George Smith on the bench, Brumbies lock Al Campbell will step in to captain Australia 'A' on Wednesday. The 27-year-old, who came off the bench for the Wallabies in last weekend's defeat of Italy in Rome, skippered the 'A' team to a brace of victories over Fiji in July.
Campbell has admitted he knows little about the Irish side he will come up against Limerick. He said: "It's a little bit difficult (preparing for them). Obviously we haven't seen them play. We've had information from the press that the Ireland squad is looking to develop as a squad as we are, so we're focusing on the way the Ireland team has played and prepared.
"So that's given us a little bit of a heads-up, but other than that, we are running a little bit blind. If we just focus on our own attention to detail, then that's all we can do."
Thomond Park holds some good memories for Australia 'A' centre Scott Staniforth - as a 21-year-old, he made his debut for the Wallabies at the Limerick venue when they beat the USA 55-19 at the 1999 World Cup. He scored two tries in that game and also started at Lansdowne Road in November 2002 when Australia were beaten 19-8 by a Ronan O'Gara-inspired Ireland.
The 22-year-old Drew Mitchell, who scored two tries for the Wallabies in their 30-14 win over Ireland last November, is hoping a solid performance against Ireland 'A' can earn him a recall to John Connolly's senior side.
With Lote Tuqiri and Stirling Mortlock expected to form a heavyweight centre partnership against Ireland on Sunday, Connolly had admitted that "the wing spot is very open for the Ireland Test, with the candidates including Mark Gerrard, Drew Mitchell, Clyde Rathbone and Scott Staniforth."
A focused Mitchell conceded: "You've got to keep improving because everyone out there is trying to strive for the position that you're in. If you don't keep advancing like other players do, then obviously you're going to get left behind."
Having slumped to a surprising defeat in Swansea, Campbell and company are determined to get back to winning ways against Ireland 'A' and in doing so, improve their own chances of Test selection for Saturday week's encounter with Scotland.
The 6ft 7in second row added: "Everyone was disappointed and I guess a little bit embarrassed with their own performances and also the team performance. Having the week off and no mid-week game last week, I think there's a lot of guys with something to prove.
"The midweek games are a great opportunity for the guys across the squad to put their hands up and push for starting positions in the Test team. Everyone will be looking for a good performance against Ireland 'A'."
**All photos by Donall Farmer of Inpho Photography**