IRELAND V AUSTRALIA PREVIEW

Well, Joe Schmidt’s first real test as Ireland’s new coach comes tomorrow as his charges run out to face Australia. Last week’s game against Samoa was a tough match but Australia will be in a different class altogether. The Wallabies are currently 3rd in the IRB rankings and have a lot of talented players.
 
While it’s true that Australia haven’t had much success recently (although I don’t know how we would do playing  against South Africa and New Zealand, or even Argentina, in consecutive weeks. I’d imagine our record would not be very impressive!), they are improving all the time and they have a very powerful side.
 
Australia had a difficult series against the Lions in the summer. They were unlucky to lose the 1st test, narrowly won the 2nd and were demolished in the 3rd. The Wallabies were unable to put the right team together and all the while been jeered by their own fans. After the loss of the test series they lost their coach, New Zealander Robbie Deans.
 
It was hoped that Australia’s fortunes would improve under new coach, Australian Ewen McKenzie, but they gave a pretty poor showing in the Rugby Championship tournament, comprehensively beaten by both New Zealand and South Africa, in all 4 tests and only narrowly beating Argentina in the other 2 tests. Making it 2 wins and 4 losses.
 
They put in a much better performance against New Zealand in a 3rd test, though they still lost. Australia were much improved against Italy when they played them last week, winning the game by 50 points. Of course, we lost to Italy in the last 6 Nations. 
 
Australia have changed their team since the Lions series, while replacing out-half James O’Connor with Quade Cooper. While Cooper has yet to really live up to his early potential, he’s a much better no.10 than O’Connor was and should give Jonny Sexton a lot of problems.
 
Sexton had the better of O’Connor during the Lions series but he will not find things so easy against Cooper. Australia also have a very potent attacking force in Israel Folau one of the most impressive players that’s come along in a while (the bookies have him at 9-1 to be the scorer of the 1st try in the game, the best odds. I actually put a bet on Mike Ross to score 1st, his odds are 80-1!).
 
Ireland got a great win against Australia the last time the 2 teams played, in the 2011 World Cup, but it’s a much different Wallaby team now, with a new coach and only 4 of the team surviving from that World Cup shock upset. Ireland, while they also have a new coach, have 11 players retained from the match 2 years ago.
 
Joe Schmidt has picked a very strong side for the game. While Ireland were plagued by injuries last year, at the moment they almost a full panel to chose from and Schmidt has made great use of it. 
 
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Fergus McFadden, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Kevin McLaughlin, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Robbie Henshaw.
 
There are several changes in the side from the game against Samoa, with Jonny Sexton, Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien and Paul O’Connell all returning to the team. Other changes see Luke Marshall come in at centre and Eoin Reddan replacing Conor Murray at scrum-half (Murray is on the bench).
 
It’s great to see the big guns back in the team, with Paul O’Connell taking on the captain’s role. Bowe, O’Driscoll, Sexton, Murray, Heaslip, O’Brien and O’Connell all featured in the Lions test series, while Kearney and Best were in the Lions’ squad. Best has improved greatly since returning from the a disappointing, for him, Lions tour.
 
I was surprised that Eoin Reddan got the nod ahead of Murray, as Murray was one of the stars of the Lions series and has grown into a great scrum-half. There was a feeling, though, that Murray was slow to react against Samoa last week and that Ireland only really began to dominate in that game when Reddan came on to replace him.
 
A lot of great things have been said about Luke Marshall and the Ulster centre looks like a real prospect, with the feeling that he will replace O’Driscoll when the great one retires. I was surprised to see McFadden picked as I don’t believe he’s a big match player. I would have picked Fitzgerald or even David Kearney (unfortunately, Keith Earls is injured) ahead of McFadden. McFadden is a strong runner, though.  
 
Unfortunate for Dave Kearney not to be picked in the squad, as he did great on his debut last week. Not many players score any tries, let alone 2, in the their first internationals. All the more impressive as Kearney came on late in the match against Samoa.
 
Unfortunately, Kearney has been dropped form the match-day squad entirely, his place been taken by another impressive player, Robbie Henshaw. There’s been a lot of talk about the young Connacht centre.
 
Ireland have a lot of quality coming through in the backs. Unfortunately, we’re not so strong in the forwards, 2nd row, especially, being a worry . Paul O’Connell is a legend/giant but he’s not long for this world and there aren’t many players that come close to his ability.
 
Donncha O’Callaghan never really lived up to his potential and he seems to be gone from the test squad. I have doubts about Devin Toner (who partners O’Connell against Australia) being up to the task and Mike McCarthy seems to have stalled since moving from Connacht to Leinster. Perhaps he should have stayed at the west-country team a bit longer.
 
Ireland have the better team overall, but Australia can’t be underestimated and will feel they have a lot to prove, to themselves, their new coach and their fans. The Wallabies will want to return home with a much better record than when they left.
 
Ireland have their own things to prove. This is their 1st real test since last season’s 6 Nations. While they did well against Samoa and the U.S. and Canada, when they played those 2 sides in the Summer, Ireland’s results in the 6 Nations was very poor, bordering on embarrassing.
 
While Ireland did well against Wales in the opening game of last year’s tournament, things quickly went down-hill from there. They lost their next games against Scotland and England, quite comprehensively.
 
Ireland next drew with France, which would have been a great result a few years ago, but not now as France failed to win a match in last year’s 6 Nations and the 1 before. In actual fact, France have been one of the poorer teams in recent years. Ireland’s low point was another loss against Italy. Ireland ended up finished second-last in the 6 Nations.
 
To be honest, Ireland hasn’t had a great run in a few years and we were pretty poor in the last matches under Declan Kidney. Ireland showed some impressive stuff against Samoa, let’s hope that they can achieve the results against Australia.
 
I think that Ireland will win. 

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