A packed Lansdowne Road awaits the touring Australians for Ireland’s first and their second autumn ‘friendly’ and David Mervyn takes a look at what lies ahead.
Flying out of the the passionate pocket of South America which is Argentina, Australia, under coach Eddie Jones, slumbered to an irksome 17-6 win over the host nation in Buenos Aires last weekend. Jones preaches a gospel of economic victories and last Saturday was certainly the case. Bristol outhalf Felipe Contepomi missed a total of 21 points from the boot, including a kick, which arched wide right in front of the uprights.
The tourists have arrived in Dublin this week with their reputations intact and a chance to rectify a poor first showing on the road. From their Portmarnock base, the World Cup holders have existed exclusively in a baggy tracksuit symphony, carving their way through training drills and enjoying a spot of ‘unruly’ Gaelic football. The professionalism with which Jones’ squad exhibit each time they appear in public or ‘on the paddock’ is testament to the Wallaby sporting philosophy – be a winner, whatever you do.
Jones has talked up Ireland this week, describing them as, “probably the best prepared side in Europe at the moment”, and singling out new captain and perennial centre-who-walks-on water, Brian O’Driscoll, for special mention. “With O’Driscoll in the side, they are capable of anything.” said Jones and another gargantuan task lies ahead of the Blackrock back today.
Australia will try to strangle him out of this game, starve him of opportunities to step up in one-on-ones and force him to turn to his own line with a bombardment of up-and-unders on a supposed weak link, Girvan Dempsey. Centres Herbert and Mortlock will relish the chance to contain O’Driscoll and allow the firepower of league convert Wendell Sailor to trouble us out wide.
Denis Hickie has returned from injury however, and Eddie O’Sullivan’s charges may hold a slight advantage in the backs, as a full strength Irish 9 to 15 contend with a tourist side shorn of six regulars. This may not be visible during game time however as Australia will disguise, Ireland therefore, must expose.
David Giffin is making a welcome return to the game following extensive surgery and whilst Ireland experiment with ‘Big Vic’ at 6, the visitors bring Owen Finnegan into the second row.
Jones will hope that his squad has left their one ‘discoloured’ performance of this tour back in the land of Eva Peron.
There are some enticing head-to-head battles (literally) afoot pitchside at 2.30.
Costello, Gleeson and Foley against Cockbain, Smith and Kefu seems colossal – perhaps the defining area of the match, especially when you bring Kiwi referee Steve Walsh into the equation.
Leinster flanker Gleeson has the opportunity to put one over on the World’s number one spoiler, burrower, number 7, you name it. Just as the home side has match winners in O’Driscoll and O’Gara, Smith can garner possession for his side when they most need it; it seems second nature to him.
Ireland need a performance to strengthen themselves before must-win games against Fiji and Argentina. They need to get up and running early and exert their own game on the Australians. The one area where Australia may be vulnerable is out wide where Sailor has looked less than comfortable and we just might see O’Gara launching a few skywards, into the space above and behind the six foot-plus League convert.
Expect collision, expect pain, and expect rain.