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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Smith: Ireland Are Resilient, But Advantage Is With Australia

Smith: Ireland Are Resilient, But Advantage Is With Australia

The man who scored Australia’s only try the last time they met Ireland in a Rugby World Cup says the vast experience in the Irish ranks could help them unsettle the Wallabies this weekend.

Flanker George Smith crossed early on in Melbourne in 2003 before the hosts withstood a stirring Irish fightback to win a crucial pool game 17-16.

Despite a brilliant try and drop goal from Brian O’Driscoll in the second half, Ireland came up just short, and defeat meant they faced France rather than Scotland in the quarter-finals.

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The most-capped forward in Australia’s history with 110 caps and a veteran of two Rugby World Cups, Smith is well placed to assess the value of having experienced a stage like this before.

“Ireland are a very resilient team and they’ve got good leaders in their side,” said Smith, who now plays his rugby with Suntory in Japan.

“They’re the oldest team by average age (in the tournament) which definitely shows the experience that you need in a World Cup.

“I think that’s a huge positive because they’re playing an Australian team which is relatively young – not inexperienced at Test level – but in terms of the World Cup.

“I think it’s a huge benefit having players who have played in previous World Cups. They know how to train and how to prepare for a World Cup game – that’s definitely on their side.”

Like most observers, the former Brumbies and Toulon player is full of praise for Australia’s exciting back-line and he feels Ireland will need to starve them of possession if they are to have a chance of winning in Auckland on Saturday.

“In a World Cup tournament your key areas are your set piece. If you can disrupt anyone in a set piece it obviously flows on to how a team plays,” he explained.

“If you’re able to disrupt a team in the scrum area, it doesn’t allow their backs to get into the game. If you disrupt someone at a lineout you’re doing the same thing.

“The backs for Australia are very potent, very direct and very unpredictable in what they do. So to not allow their backs to have any front foot ball, I think that’s key.”

While Smith appreciates the importance of having assured, older heads in your team, he thinks momentum and familiarity with your surroundings can also be significant.

Australia certainly have the former, while he cites his experience during Toulon’s 45-18 mauling at the hands of Munster in last season’s Heineken Cup as an example of the latter.

“I think momentum is a strong thing to have in any tournament and I think leading into a World Cup tournament, momentum can be a powerful thing,” added the 31-year-old.

“The Wallabies winning the Tri Nations and having that feeling of being able to achieve and win trophies is a valuable thing. Winning that Tri Nations was huge for the Australian boys.

“We played the Munster team down at Thomond Park. They’re such a tough team to beat in their own home ground, under their conditions.

“So for the Wallabies, having experienced the New Zealand people and the New Zealand environment for many years, that’s a huge advantage.”

Follow the Ireland team in New Zealand on www.twitter.com/irfurugby.