Preview: Ireland v Australia

Date published: November 21 2014

Claiming the scalp of Australia in Dublin to go with South Africa’s would surely see Ireland’s 2015 World Cup odds come tumbling down.

Claiming the scalp of Australia on Saturday to go with South Africa’s would surely see Ireland’s Rugby World Cup odds come falling down.

It would simply be the perfect November if Joe Schmidt can orchestrate another victory and with that soak up huge confidence heading into 2015.

There is no doubt they are capable of building on the wins over the Springboks and Georgia and it says a great deal that the pencils are out lining up possible knockout opponents in eleven months’ time. But, for now, the focus is all about Saturday.

Key to their hopes is their nine-ten combination between Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton while the great form of Paul O’Connell is no coincidence to Ireland’s beating of the Boks. In O’Connell the Irish boast one of those players who inspires without even speaking, which is similar to that of Martin Johnson. O’Connell, like Richie McCaw, Jean de Villiers and Michael Hooper, is way above other leaders at this moment in time.

Because of O’Connell’s form and the ever-growing depth this Ireland pack seems to be developing, they’re fast becoming dark horses for 2015. They possess pretty much everything a team requires in knockout rugby – a solid pack and backs who combine intelligence, attacking threat and also a low error count. Remember, these assessments are being made whilst back-row Sean O’Brien and loosehead Cian Healy remain on the treatment table.

Meanwhile, that man Hooper, who caused the Irish so many problems last year in that 32-15 result, would have had to rally his men after last week’s loss to France. Put simply, they now need their star quality to respond or it will have been a poor November Test campaign.

The personnel is there and on the bench they possess quality that can change a game at the drop of a hat. Add in coach Michael Cheika’s inside knowledge of how Ireland’s Leinster contingent think and this match is set up to be one of the best of an intriguing last month.

Cheika’s reign is still very much in its infancy and of course it will take time for his methods to bed in and his own first-choice team being settled on. This backline though looks as strong as the Wallabies can put out as it is a major boost to see Matt Toomua return in midfield.

In the pack Luke Jones is the next player to don the number six jersey that several have now tried to nail down in Scott Fardy’s absence. On first glance the rangy Rebels player is part of a somewhat lighthweight yet tall forward pack that will surely have been targeted by Ireland.

Whether the hosts can build a lead via the tight exchanges and get on the right side of Glen Jackson is the question. But whatever happens the respective benches will set up a frantic last quarter as Ireland’s five forwards and Australia’s three backs are high class impact men.

Ones to watch:

For Ireland: He went well at inside centre against South Africa but Saturday poses a whole new task for Robbie Henshaw. As much as head coach Schmidt tried to liken facing the Wallabies midfield to the Boks, the Connacht centre goes up against Tevita Kuridrani, Henry Speight and Israel Folau’s threat on Saturday. While he offers a great deal going forward, it’s defensively where he must shine. Also, Rory Best has to slot back in seamlessly at hooker.

For Australia: Picked up a try brace when he was last in Dublin so Ireland will have been extra vigilant of Michael Hooper during this week’s analysis. Hooper is unique as a back-row as his pace over ten metres often surprises backs and forwards alike. If he shines, Ireland are in real trouble as it would mean the Wallabies have likely matched them up front.

Head-to-head: The battle in the tight is going to be critical in Dublin and on the face of it, Ireland should have the edge as the leadership of Paul O’Connell is massive. Sam Carter will tackle all day while James Slipper has gone on another level in 2014, but there still remains doubts about the dog in this Wallaby pack and if they don’t face up, this hosts’ eight along with the bench of Sean Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Rodney Ah You and Dave Foley will make it a long day. Without ball, Folau, Kuridrani and company won’t be able to do much.

Recent results:

2013: Australia won 32-15 in Dublin
2011: Ireland won 15-6 in Auckland
2010: Australia won 22-15 in Brisbane
2009: 20-20 draw in Dublin
2008: Australia won 18-12 in Melbourne
2006: Ireland won 21-6 in Dublin
2006: Australia won 37-15 in Perth
2005: Australia won 30-14 in Dublin
2003: Australia won 17-16 in Melbourne
2003: Australia won 45-16 in Perth

Prediction: Home win here, Ireland by 8!

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Rhys Ruddock, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Dave Foley, 20 Tommy O’Donnell, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Felix Jones.

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridriani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Luke Jones, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Benn Robinson, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Will Genia, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Kurtley Beale.

Date: Saturday, November 22
Kick-off: 16:30 GMT
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Television match official: Eric Gauzins (France)
Timekeeper: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)