Donal Lenihan gives the lowdown on Australia's attacking threat & experience gained from the South Africa victoryFrom an attacking perspective, Ireland will face a far greater challenge when it comes to dealing with the multi phase approach that Australia will bring to the Aviva Stadium on Saturday compared to what the Springboks produced in the opening November test.
There is a fundamental difference between those two sides in that Australia have been the great innovators of attacking play dating back to their magnificent Grand Slam winning touring side of 1984. That Wallaby back line redefined the way the game could be played with the mercurial Mark Ella directing affairs from half back along with Nick Farr-Jones, feeding outside backs of the calibre of Michael Lynagh, David Campese and captain Andy Slack.
Ella had great vision and unlike many of his contemporaries in the No 10 jersey at that time was far happier passing the ball than hoofing it up the field. He always sought to support the play after passing and famously said that if he touched the ball twice in the same movement Australia would score, three times and he would score himself, a feat he managed in all four tests.
South Africa are in the process of developing a more expansive game leading into the World Cup but on the evidence of their clash with Ireland they still have a way to go on that front.
Australia scored some magnificent tries in this seasons Rugby Championship and when they manage to generate quick ball, they have so many game breakers spread across the back line that your defence is immediately threatened. The challenge for new coach Michael Cheika is to marry the slightly differing styles adopted of his Waratahs backs with that of the Brumbies.
His midfield to date has been populated by Brumbies players with Matt Toomua and Chrustian Leali'ifano sharing the inside centre duties with the thundering Tevita Kuridrani ever present outside them. Kuridrani's physical presence along with his deft off-loads have the capacity to wreak havoc and he is in great form.
The big worry for Ireland is the threat posed by the magnificent Israel Folau playing off Kuridrani's shoulder. Folau runs superb support lines and has the uncanny ability to ghost in from behind as a trail runner. That is very difficult to defend against.
Cheika may be tempted to include another Brumbie in winger Henry Speight who looked electric in the tour opener against the Barbarians but hasn't featured since. While the Wallabies looked spent at times in their defeat to France last Saturday night, if the undoubted talent they possess behind the scrum rediscovers its mojo on Saturday then Ireland will be in for one hell of a contest.
Ireland's set piece to benefit from Springbok experience
The likes of Paul O’ Connell have always learned from coming up against the best in class, a rare enough experience for him given that he has occupied that seat for most of his career. Yet, even in the aftermath of one of his most significant wins as Irish captain, it was impossible not to detect the sense of disappointment that lingered underneath due primarily to the pressure Ireland were put under at the set piece.
Just like Mike Ross takes the scrum performance in every game he plays to heart, for O’ Connell the line out is personal. Remarkably Ireland managed to record a comprehensive win over South Africa despite the set piece experiencing a very thorough examination from the visitors up front.
With the likes of Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth, the du Plessis brothers Bismark and Jannie and Duane Vermeulen on board, it's no surprise that South Africa manage to put most opposition to the sword in both scrum and line out.
Given that Ireland's foundation for the Six Nations triumph last season was based around the strength of their line-out and subsequent maul, it was a bit chastening for O’ Connell's pack to be on the receiving end for once. To beat the second best side in the game at present despite that fault line will only benefit Ireland in the long run, starting with the game against Australia next Saturday.
I have a feeling that these Irish forwards will seek to take the lingering frustrations from that Springbok game out on their Wallaby counterparts. With the vast majority of the pack watching last Sundays win over Georgia from the stand, they are now fresh and eager for battle.
The Australian line- out looked disjointed against the French while their scrum was also put under severe pressure at times. Ireland will have watched and spotted potential weaknesses to be exploited. They will also have learned from the precision and execution of the well drilled Springbok unit and O’ Connell in particular will be looking to eradicate the systems failure that led to four line-out turnovers in that contest.
I suspect that much of their energies will be focused on the scrum where loose-head prop Jack McGrath faces another big challenge against Sekope Kepu. McGrath worked his socks off against South Africa, racking up 17 tackles in a very industrious day’s work.
I think he would be far happier to make his big impact in the scrummaging contest this time out with Ross also set for another big test in what should be his 25th consecutive international start. That underlines his importance to this Irish side. Talk again soon.
Donal LenihanBack to Blog