Match Preview: Australia vs Ireland

Set Pieces

Aussie scrum held up well enough against a powerful Italian pack – the same kind of performance you would expect the Irish to deliver. Irish scrum looked very impressive against a very weak USA scrum. Mike Ross a big addition to Irish front row. Most recent encounters between Ireland and Australia have been pretty even in this regard and I would expect much the same here.

Similarly both lineouts operated steadily in their opening encounters, though Ireland’s does seem to have the ability to misfire badly, (eg vs France in Bordeaux.) There are doubts over Cronin at sub hooker, he won’t have played in a game nearly as big as this. Ireland have four good lineout options with Heaslip and Ferris but O’Connell seems to call a lot of ball on himself.

Kick-offs? Both seem fairly standard. Ireland seem to have gotten over their inability and fumbling at kick-offs which used to plague them and O’Connell looks powerful receiving them of late. Irish backrowers often field longer kicks are these are powerful ball carriers however, the Irish hands are generally a little bit shit. Cooper is more likely to fluff a kick-off if rattled.

Verdict: If the Irish team can manage to keep their concentration levels up, they should be able to match the Aussies in this area. But that’s an if, consistency and concentration have plagued Ireland this year.

Ball Carrying and Try Scoring

Australia has potent and fast backs in the back three. AAC, Beale and O’Connor are all fantastic counter-attackers and finishers. Grey Man and Fa’inga are fairly straightforward, truck-it-up runners. Genia is extremely quick (and powerful) from the base of the ruck and is a big danger, especially if flankers are overly concerned with Cooper making spaces out wide or defense is stretched. Wingers come looking for work and get involved on back of hard running from centres. Cooper’s passing is phenomenal at times.

Ireland has the guile of O’Driscoll, pace in Superstar Earls and pace and power from Bowe and Kearney. However, our passing is a weakness and is in general an undervalued skill in Ireland. Quick ball is certainly not guaranteed if the American game is anything to go by. Sexton can also carry and break well for a 10 and Reddan has the very occasional snipe but his judgement is questionable, he has the potential to do stupid things and he is not physical enough against Aussie flankers. Would have preferred Boss on the bench to Murray after last week.

Australia have Rocky, Pocock and Samo, Ireland have Ferris, O’Brien and Heaslip as ball carriers. All six are potent, with arguably O’Brien the best of the lot, but will he get the opportunity wearing the no. seven shirt? Back row carrying is one of Ireland’s biggest weapons. Will they be able to exploit it or will there be a lot of 70cm nudges from our tight five? Samo has dangerous (nay, frightening) pace which none of the others have, viz his try versus NZ in Tri-Nations decider. Healy will also be important to Ireland, as he generally brings something to the table in big games, whereas the Aussie can call on remarkable footballer Higginbotham from the bench.

Verdict: Aussies definitely have the edge and are very dangerous in the loose. More pace and greater skill levels. Cannot remember the last time Ireland scored from 50/60 metres out.

Kicking

Sexton has distance, O’Driscoll is a good panic kicker, Kearney also has a huge boot. All are strong, but Sexton is not in the same league as O’Gara as a tactical kicker. Reddan’s box kicking is a mixed bag. Like other parts of his game, he has the skills but is prone to calamity, but we have to assume that he’s not going to have one of those days. Bowe and Earls are both non-kicking wingers for the most part. Stick it over Earls’ head and what is he going to do? RO’G is the best tactical kicker at the RWC arguably. Could prove vital to play territory in late stages if it is still close.

Cooper is talented with the football and can kick but it’s not a big part of his game. Genia is an excellent scrum half and with that comes good box kicking. Both Beale and O’Connor are fullback/wingers with good kicking ability. AAC not so much.

In terms of place-kicking, Ireland fairly stunk the place out last Sunday morning with Sexton not doing the business at all, meaning we lacked scoreboard pressure. Good goal-kicking will be fundamental to Ireland taking anything from this game. If we miss more than 2 kicks I cannot see us being close. Australia had less trouble in much better conditions, however they lack an out-and-out first choice kicker. Cooper is a wonky Popeye impersonator who hooks nearly everything (just depends by how much), O’Connor seems to have a natural/unrefined technique that is prone to let him down and Beale is their third choice. All have kicked hugely important goals in the Wallaby jumper but at the same time it is definitely an area where things could go awry for Australia. Here’s hoping.

Verdict: Field kicking has not been as big a part of Ireland’s game sans O’Gara to be blunt. We have the tools with Sexton and Kearney but Kearney has barely played and Sexton has tried to run far too much. Aussies rely much more on continuity. O’Gara could be key in late stages. Goal-kicking, needless to say is pivotal.

Decision Making

Australians have the most attacking half-back combo, and arguably best half-back combo at RWC2011 (given the dearth of a first choice NZ scrummy). Genia and Cooper are both dangerous attackers and Australia are a very offensive team that is rarely on the back foot. When put under severe pressure (e.g. away vs NZ in Tri-Nations) Cooper pulled out a complete shocker. Throwing the ball away, lashing out forward passes, bitching out of contact and generally getting completely psyched out by McCaw. Cooper is the key orchestrator for Australia and if Ireland ruffle his feathers they will falter.

Ireland are starting Reddan and Sexton together which is bizarrely rare. The Leinster pair combined excellently against England in our one good (whole match) performance of the year and not since for Ireland in 6 games. How much of that wonderful, fiery performance was down to them? Reddan will have an understanding with Sexton and give him quicker ball which is useful if he plans on trying loads of back moves and loops. Sexton doesn’t make awful decisions but is not as good at managing a game as O’Gara. That said, he is a winner and ran the show in the HEC final (in the second half).

Verdict: Its up to Ireland to pressurize Australia in one of their most important units and to disrupt it. They definitely have the edge on Ireland here, but Cooper’s bad performances are truly awful and Reddan & Sexton is the combination Ireland need to start with.

Defence

Ireland are definitely game in defence. They aren’t weak by any means but their glaring weakness is their constant misuse of shooters (usually O’Driscoll) to try to aggressively snuff out attacks, but more often than not tends to end up with opposition exploiting the broken line and scoring from first phase ball in the gap between 12 and 13. It happens every year against France (three times this year) and even Scotland exploited it for Jo Ansbro’s try in the first warm up game. Otherwise Ireland do have a tendency to let teams get to the gainline before making the tackle. This is due to mentality more than tactics I think. When they are tentative and lacking aggression (i.e. quite often) this is how the defence suffers. There are no glaring turnstile players. R’OG will be run over on occasion but at least he’ll be there having been run over. – he’s brave, just not particularly good at tackling. In the pack, the back row again will be aggressive but the lack of steel in the front five is worrying, because it is the best place to target the Australians.

Australia have a comically woofterish weakness in Cooper’s defence, so much so that he hangs out at fullback much of the time. Grey Man and Fa’inga are both picked for their physicality and in Fa’inga’s case especially his defence. He is lining up against O’Driscoll, which will be a key battle, if Ireland can make the requisite number of decent passes it takes to get him decent ball. New Zealand blitzed the Aussies in the tight after half time in Tri-Nations decider but the Italians (and the second-string Boks with their second-string straight running) caused very little concern for the Quantas Wallabies. Ireland cannot offer the kind of front five power that NZ do in general, but as a rule of thumb our best play in the last year has come off multiple quick aggressive phases in the opponents 22. If we can get territory and not drop the ball, we can score. Pocock will be vital obviously at securing quick ball and competing for turnovers.

Verdict: Dependent on Ireland’s mentality, if we are aggressive and cohesive we can go toe to toe with Australian pack. We do lack on actual openside flanker and our discipline and refereeing interpretations will be crucial. The Australians are an offence-orientated team, accustomed to winning games by outscoring. That said, they held off the first string (ish) Boks in a tight encounter in South Africa in the most recent Tri-Nations.

Territory and Possession

The big worry for Ireland is their poor, poor handling and passing which concedes possession and territory respectively. Constant turnovers will also mean broken continuity and inability to determine the course of a game. Australia have Pocock who will probably generate turnovers via penalties and stripping the ball, moreso than the Irish back row. Australia could cope better with ball you would feel, given their greater ability to strike from distance. Also they are far more liable to take quick line-outs and start counter attacks rather than deal with possession phases in their own territory. Kick into the crowds!

Mentality

Ireland are on a cold streak. They look nervous and tentative and resort constantly to unimaginative plays – static one-out runners or wildly optimistic backs moves off slow ball. Australians think they can win anything and have just won the Tri-Nations and Queensland Reds have won the Super Rugby tournament both with a dynamic young captain in Horwill. Ireland will fare far, far better as a big underdog, which they should be and are here and for more realistically, O’Driscoll always performs in the big games (when fit, which we are assuming he). Plus also, we’ve been hiding all our good stuff for the last two years of course.

Verdict: Australia, Australia, Australia we love you, amen. Crack tubes! Ireland are best when written off, expect a far more aggressive performance from them.

Selection

Australians make one enforced change with Digby having a broken hand so hot-tempered larrikin James O’Connor finds his way back into the team after disciplinary reasons. Grey Man and Fainga’a keep their places, the latter of whom had an extremely underwhelming day against Italy.

Ireland are finally getting a chance to try out their front line team it seems, which bizarrely includes Superstar Earls, despite being hugely outperformed by the gutsy and aggressive Andrew Trimble in the matches this summer. Kearney, O’Driscoll, Healy and Ferris have all had interrupted preparations and our half-back pairing has only played together at national level four times in two years.

Verdict: Australia of course, but at least even if the Irish team is praying that all their first-choice lads will click, at least they are first choice, bar David Wallace.

Overall Verdict

Everything points to Australia winning this game and I see no reason to doubt that. At this stage in the Irish teams progression, even a heroic big underdog performance will fail to disrupt the Aussies if they play up to their usual standard given their superior mentality, form and players. Huge amount depends on the quality of place kicks from as we need to be able to keep in touch even if being outplayed and hope the Australians spurn their opportunities from the boot. If the game is tight and low-scoring when O’Gara enters the frame (as no doubt he will do) it will be up to Ireland to hold their nerve and take whatever opportunity is presented to them.

Logic says that a two score (say 8/9 points) win for Aussies looks likely. The bookies offer 11 points, which I expect Ireland to be within, though I don’t expect them to win.

Sentiment of course is telling me that this is when the memories of Lansdowne Road and Melbourne are banished and Drico breaks Aussie hearts with a one-point win. Sentiment is a mad aul’ fucker though.

Teams:

Australia XV: Kepu, Moore, Alexander, Vickerman, Horwill [c], Rocky, Pocock, Samo, Genia, Cooper, AAC, Greyman, Fainga’a, Hot Tempered Larrikin James O’Connor, Beale

Subs: Polota-Nau, Slipper, Simmons, McCalman, Higginbotham, Burgess, Mitchell

Ireland XV: Healy, Best, Ross, O’Connell, O’Callagan, Ferris, Seanie, Heaslip, Reddan, Sexton, Earls, D’arcy, Drico [c], Bowe, Kearney

Subs: Cronin, Court, Ryan, Leamy, Murray, O’Gara, Trimble

Venue: Eden Park, Auckland, 9.30am

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZ)

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