23 May, 12:21
The Irish Rugby Supporters Club is delighted to announce that tickets for the GUINNESS Series 2013 will go on sale on ticketmaster.ie at 10am on Thursday, May 30.
Hard to believe it now, but Gerard Depardieu-lookalike Johnson used to operate at out-half or centre during his playing days. The 44-year-old lined out for Paramatta, Eastwood and New South Wales as well as captaining the Australian Under-21s.
One of the game's true characters, Johnson was much-loved during his four-year stint with the Welsh national team, as much for his innovative rugby brain as for his shorts and sideline struts at the Millennium Stadium.
The 24-year-old Matt Giteau has never started a game against Ireland. His only previous appearance against the men in green came as a replacement during the Wallabies' 17-16 pool win at the 2003 World Cup. He was an unused replacement for the tourists when Ireland beat the Aussies 18-9 at Lansdowne Road in 2002.
Known as a centre but playing at scrum half in the absence of long-serving Aussie skipper George Gregan, Giteau definitely has an admirer in Irish coach Eddie O'Sullivan. He said of the Australian number 9: "Matt's a bit more aggressive on the line than George. So it's a different job to mind him than it would be if George was playing.
"Matt's the guy we've got to watch basically. George tends to orchestrate other people around him whereas Matt is more capable of running through holes himself. He's also quite a physical player."
Lock Nathan Sharpe and centre/winger Scott Staniforth, who both play Super 14 rugby with Western Force, arrive for training at the south Dublin venue. Sharpe, who recently became a father for the first time, is well known in Australia for his charity work and hospital visits.
The 28-year-old forward won the Rugby Medal For Excellence in both 2002 and 2005, an award presented by the Australian Rugby Union Players Association to acknowledge a player for excelling in performance, leadership, consistency and discipline on the field and work in the charity, vocational and rugby development sectors off the field. Sharpe completed a Business Essentials course last year.
Rocky Elsom, Lote Tuqiri and Nathan Sharpe prepare for training with some help from Australian physio Cameron Lillicrap. Former Wallaby prop Lillicrap, who also works as a scrum consultant to the team, gained seven Test caps between 1985 and 1991. The Brisbane man lined out at loosehead against Ireland in the 1987 World Cup quarter-final, which the Aussies won 33-15 thanks to tries from Matthew Burke (2), Andy McIntyre and Brian Smith, who went on to play nine times for Ireland.
Australian number 8 Wycliff Palu and replacement lock Al Campbell put on some strapping before training. Comparisons between Palu, who is on his first European tour, and former Wallaby great Willie Ofahengaue are inevitable - both have Tongan heritage, both played for Manly and both managed to make their Test debuts during a year before a World Cup. 'Willie O' burst onto the scene in 1990.
The burly 24-year-old Palu, who is known as 'Cliffy' to his team-mates, earned his first cap against England last June and also gained some game-time against Ireland a week later. He said of the Wallabies' current tour: "I don't really like the cold but it's good to get the experience of playing in Europe before next year's World Cup."
Winger Mark Gerrard is actually a first cousin of Palu's, and Sydney-born but of Tongan descent just like the Waratahs back rower. Both Brumbies back Gerrard and Palu started their playing days together, aged 10, in the Sea Eagles' rugby league ranks at Manly.
Gerrard, who has earned a recall to the Australian Test line-up after impressing at out-half for the 'A' side in midweek, knows his cousin will need little motivation to get stuck into Denis Leamy and the rest of the Irish back row on Sunday. He said: "There's not much you really need to give that boke (Palu) for encouragement because he is 120 kilograms and he could run through a brick wall if he wanted to."
Scott Johnson alongside Waratahs utility back Mat Rogers, who has been dropped to make way for Stephen Larkham's return at number 10 this weekend against Ireland. The 30-year-old Rogers is in his final 12 months as a union player - he is to make a return to rugby league, with the new Gold Coast Titans franchise, after next year's World Cup in France.
Nathan Sharpe seems aghast as he throws a pass out at training. Perhaps he has seen Paul O'Connell lurking in the trees? O'Connell helped Ireland edge the lineout battle when the countries clashed during the pool stages at the 2003 World Cup. Back then in Melbourne, despite the Wallabies' 17-16 success, the Irish still won all but two of their lineout throws as well as stealing five Wallaby balls.
John Connolly has a word with Lote Tuqiri, who has been moved from his left wing berth to outside centre for Sunday's clash with Ireland. It is a little known fact but Tuqiri's first name is actually pronounced 'Lortay' instead of 'Loti'. The Fijian-born 27-year-old said: "(People saying my name incorrectly) I'm used to it by now. It's not a big deal to me at all."
Tuqiri's father Tukula is a deacon. Lote had quite a religious upbringing and did not play competitive sport until the age of 15. To this day, he still says a prayer before every game.
Australian centre and tour captain Stirling Mortlock controls a ball at Wanderers FC. The Brumbies skipper made his first appearance of the Wallabies' European tour last weekend when he started at inside centre in the 25-18 win over Italy. Mortlock scored a late try to copperfasten the result and showed no side-effects from the minor knee surgery he underwent in September.
He said afterwards: "From a personal point of view, it was good to get back in there and to get through 80 minutes. I didn't get too many chances to get involved but it was just one of those games. We did some good things and I can only say this team is going to get a lot better as the tour progresses."
Lote Tuqiri, who is just two caps away from a half century of appearances for the Wallabies, receives some attention at training. Tuqiri will be part of an intriguing midfield battle against Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, and he is confident that the Wallabies can shut down the hosts' fleet-footed centres.
Tuqiri said: "Brian O'Driscoll's the number one in the world, but I still think there are certain parts to his game where we can get at him. There are a couple of things there, and hopefully on Sunday we can reveal that. The coaching staff have analysed him pretty well, and we know their centres drive the Irish team.
"Stirling and I have a big task on our hands to shut them down. I think we can do it, but more importantly I'm just hoping it's a free-flowing game."
**All photos by Morgan Treacy of Inpho Photography**