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Smal: Tough Game Expected, But A Great Opportunity

Smal: Tough Game Expected, But A Great Opportunity

Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal says the players must raise their game and seize ‘a great opportunity’ to win on Australian soil as they round off the summer tour by taking on the Wallabies.

Both Ireland and Australia head into next weekend’s Test on the back of a defeat, with Robbie Deans’ men smarting from their 21-20 loss to England in Sydney.

In their final game before the start of the Tri Nations, the Wallabies are sure to put in a big effort as they look to take some momentum into the SANZAR tournament.

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The same can be said for an Ireland squad determined to end a run of four successive defeats, which includes Test losses to Scotland and New Zealand.

Results aside, there have been encouraging signs Down Under in terms of player development and the tour has been a great learning experience for the likes of Sean Cronin, Dan Tuohy, Ed O’Donoghue, Johne Murphy and recent call-up Rhys Ruddock.

The chance of becoming the first Ireland side to beat the Wallabies on Australian soil since 1979 is there for the taking, and such an outcome would be a big boost at the end of a long and varied season.

Previewing Saturday’s clash at Suncorp Stadium, Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal said: “We are in for a tough game but again if you play against a team ranked in the top three in the world, it’s always going to be tough.

“But we’re not there to see what they can throw at us. We want to take our game to them as well.

“That’s what makes this such a great opportunity for these players. Because there is some skill there and they can surprise.

“And not just surprise us but themselves as well. That’s why you’re looking forward to it. You can just imagine if we beat them on Saturday what it will mean for these players and for Irish rugby.”

Ireland overcame a half-time deficit and hit back with a late Brian O’Driscoll try to earn a 20-20 draw with Australia at Croke Park last November.

O’Driscoll also touched down in the sides’ most recent meeting on Australian soil, an 18-12 loss for the Irish in Melbourne two years ago.

Hooker Jerry Flannery has a ’50-50′ chance of playing in Saturday’s match, while his Munster colleague Mick O’Driscoll is likely to be fit after suffering a back spasm against New Zealand.

Winger Shane Horgan injured his neck against New Zealand Maori last Friday and is awaiting the results of a scan.

Smal confirmed: “It (Flannery’s recovery) is going well. Over the next two days we’ll see how he progresses and there’s an option to maybe use him. (We’ll decide) on Tuesday or Wednesday.”

The South African has enjoyed the opportunity to work with players who did not feature in last year’s Churchill Cup and the November internationals, praising hooker Damien Varley in particular.

“Damien Varley made a difference when he came on (against the Maori) and I would also take my mind back to the Munster-Leinster (match), he really played well in that game,” he explained.

The way prop Tony Buckley stepped up to the mark, coming in late against the All Blacks for virus victim John Hayes, also impressed Smal who has said he has the potential to be ‘one of the best tightheads in the world.’

Buckley was arguably Ireland’s best player in that game, and the big Corkman, a try scorer against the Barbarians, is certainly ending his season with a bang. 

“I still believe it (that he can be world class). And, talking to a couple of the coaches here, they spoke of him quite highly,” added the former Springbok.

“So, I still believe in his capabilities and you see what he can do around the park and if we can sort out his scrummaging he will be one of the best in world rugby. I think he has a lot of potential.”