5 Dec, 14:49
The Ireland Under-19 squad to face Australia Schools at Ravenhill on Saturday week (December 14) has been announced.
A win is a win! This is true in all sports but it is never truer than against Argentina in rugby. Argentina are a brutally tough team to beat, and even if you do beat them it's very hard to look good doing it. They're just too awkward to play against.
Some of the reaction to the Irish win amongst the Australian and British media has centred on Ireland's supposed luck. They have largely ignored the many positives of last week's performance. The Irish defense was excellent and Argentina never really looked like scoring a try. It wasn't a game for the Irish backs in attack but Kevin Maggs made a lot of hard yards and Denis Hickie looked sharp again with the limited ball he had. Everyone else just tackled until they dropped.
It took a while but eventually the Irish lineout got to Federico Mendez's throw. By the end the Argentina lineout was a shambles and Simon Easterby, Malcolm O'Kelly and especially Paul O'Connell can take a bow for that.
Indeed the pairing at lock is really coming into form. Though a relatively new partnership they seem to complement each other well. Since O'Connell has come on the scene O'Kelly's status as number one lock has been challenged and it has done Big Mal the world of good. The Irish lineout was also excellent on it's own throw thanks to Keith Wood who gave a tremendous all-round performance.
Anyone who thought Woody wouldn't be up to the physical challenge anymore was put firmly in their place.
Now that match, which has been hanging over the whole of Irish Rugby like a curse, is finally gone. The pressure has been lifted from the shoulders of players, coaches and indeed supporters so much that they now feel they can enjoy the World Cup at last.
The focus now moves to host nation Australia.
In the wake of the Argentina match there was a feeling that Eddie O'Sullivan might rest several key men and effectively concede the game in preparation for France in the quarter-finals. To the great relief of Irish fans O'Sullivan has not gone down that road and has named a full-strength side.
There is a feeling that Ireland has nothing to lose coming into this match. That is true to a small extent in that no one will slate them if they lose. However the prospect of meeting Scotland or Fiji in the quarter-final instead of the in-from French is something very much worth fighting for.
In terms of pointers to form between the two teams it's hard to really ascertain anything from the group fixtures. Australia beat Argentina by more than Ireland although Argentina would say they performed worse against the Aussies. Australia doubled the points total that Ireland put up on Romania and Namibia but they had better weather in which to do it. Ireland famously beat Australia on a rain-sodden Lansdowne Road last November but were thumped in Australia in June. Ireland were noticeably tired in that game at the end of a long hard season but the Australians could say the same about November.
The Australians have named their strongest side, which is the one that beat Argentina (aside from Ben Darwin replacing Al Baxter at tight-head). David Lyons was a huge player in that match and it is vital that Ireland don't let him get up a head of steam. In particular Simon Easterby's role will be crucial in stopping him around the fringes before he gets started. Having said that they are a bit over-dependent on Lyons as a ball carrier and they don't have an obvious Plan B if he doesn't perform but their front five is bolstered by the return of Dave Giffin.
In the backs Stephen Larkham seems back to his best and the league converts Wendell Sailor and Matt Rogers are getting more consistent. Elton Flatley's deceptive pace caused Ireland no end of problems in the summer and that defensive channel will have to be marshalled carefully. As a set of backs they are up there with the best in the competition.
For Ireland, Ronan O'Gara has got the nod over David Humpheys on the basis of his calming influence in the last twenty five minutes against Argentina.
Over the past four years there's never been more than a hair's breath between them in terms of selection. Indeed Humphreys could yet return for the quarter-final. In the absence of Alan Quinlan, Keith Gleeson returns at open-side. He will definitively be a player looking to prove a point on Saturday.
Anthony Foley returns to replace the injured Victor Costello. He has missed most of the World Cup so far and he will be another looking to lay down a strong marker in the incredibly competitive back-row.
Much of the Australian media has written Ireland off as complete outsiders. That will be music to O'Sullivan's ears. Irish teams are never as dangerous than when they are written off. The Aussies are favourites and rightfully so, but they are far from unbeatable. As with all rugby games, it will come down to the battle of the forwards. While it's a fine Aussie pack, they are not invincible.
Again Ireland will look to attack at the lineout. Southern Hemisphere teams generally don't attack the line-out as much as their Northern Hemisphere counterparts. Brendan Cannon is a decent thrower but has been known to have the odd horror show. The scrums should be equal enough and much will come down to the battle of the back-rows. Their system of playing two open-sides George Smith and Phil Waugh has worked well.
Through all three games, Ireland have had problems securing their own ruck ball and Smith and Waugh will be sniffing around everything. It could well be the winning and losing of the game.
The support Ireland received last week from the fans was excellent and they will be boosted by the size of the Irish support on Saturday. In return the fans will really want to see Ireland cut loose and really take it to the Aussies. If they do that then any result is possible.