Test Match Preview
Saturday, June 23
AUSTRALIA VS IRELAND
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Local time kick off 20:00, 10:00 GMT, SA Time – 12:00
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa),
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
The Australia/Ireland Test series is going down to the wire.
The teams are locked at one-all following Ireland’s five-point win over Australia in Melbourne last Saturday, setting up a fascinating decider at the Allianz Stadium in Sydney on Saturday.
Australia surprised the Irish with their rush defence and combatitive approach in the first Test, pushing the visitors into making silly mistakes as the young Joe Carbery struggled to stamp his authority on the game in the Irish 10 jersey. The Wallaby forwards worked to match the Irish up front, denying the visitors their usuall set-piece based game.
David Pocock reigned supreme in the breakdowns as he simply took the ball away from the Irish.
It was a well thought-out game plan, and it beat the Irish who just seemed a little over-confident, arrogant even.
The second Test saw the Irish change tack.
Firstly, they changed flyhalves, unleashing Johnny Sexton and his superior game management skills and tactical abilities on the Wallabies. The ball was no longer kicked down Israel Folau’s throat as the Irish worked to turn him with tactical kicks away from his position on the field. The distribution from the pivot was quick and clever as he played a superbly technical game to deny the Wallabies the field position and ball.
The Irish made sure that they established dominance up front, owning the set-pieces while working extra hard at the breakdowns with speed to the ball and accurate clean-outs to negate the impact of Pocock over the ball.
The Wallaby defenders also seemed to be just a little slower out of the blocks.
As much as the Wallabies had out-thought the Irish in the first Test, the Irish showed their own mental acuity, and out-thought the Wallabies in the second.
Which sets up a great third Test.
This is one I will be watching!
Michael Cheika has made two changes to his starting XV ahead of the Ireland Test series decider, to be played in Sydney on Saturday.
David Pocock shifts to number eight to make way for Lukhan Tui at blindside flanker while Nick Phipps will start in the number nine jersey after Will Genia suffered a fractured arm in the second Test.
Saturday night’s Test will be Tui’s first start for the Wallabies, having appeared off the bench in his previous six internationals.
Reserve scrum-half Joe Powell will aim to add to his three Test caps after being named on a six-two replacements bench along with Ned Hanigan, who makes his return from injury.
Joe Schmidt has made several changes to his starting line-up to face Australia in their Test series decider on Saturday.
There are a number of alterations and positional switches to the side that started in Melbourne starting in the front-row where Jack McGrath and Sean Cronin will partner Tadhg Furlong.
In the second-row, James Ryan and Devin Toner pack down again while the back-row has a new look with Jack Conan coming in at number eight, CJ Stander switches to six while Peter O’Mahony moves to seven.
The half-back pairing of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton are joined in midfield by Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw.
Jacob Stockdale comes back into the back three alongside Keith Earls and Rob Kearney.
The uncapped Ross Byrne is named in the replacements as is Tadhg Beirne, who made his debut last week. John Ryan and Niall Scannell are the front-row reserves while Jordi Murphy is also named.
Kieran Marmion and Jordan Larmour complete the bench.
The final Test of the three match series promises to be interesting.
The Wallabies will surely have learned from their second Test defeat. They have to take on the Irish up front and, at the very least, achieve parity in the set-pieces while increasing their impact over the ball at the breakdowns.
In their first Test win, their talismanic ball-poacher, David Pocock, produced one of his best games ever in the Wallaby jumper. He was almost imperious as he dominated the breakdowns, freeing the likes of Michael Hooper to play the marauding game he so enjoys.
In the second Test, the Irish shut Pocock down. They dominated the collisions and the loose ball, depriving the Aussies of the menace they have in broken play. Once the very dangerous Aussie runners were deprived of good broken play running ball and the game was slowed to the pace desired by the Irish, the Wallabies were playing catch-up. Against a side like Ireland, catch-up is never an easy game.
If the Wallabies want to win this one, they will need to re-establish their dominance in the loose. They will need to be more physical in the pack, both in the set-pieces and in the collisions. Michael Cheika has sought to add physicality by selecting the 1,98m, 121kg Lukhan Tui on the blindside flank, with a view to overpowering Ireland’s powerful forwards. Switching David Pocock to the Number 8 jersey might add Tui’s physicality but it does seem to be at the cost of pace and mobility in the back-row. This might not be a bad call against the Irish who like to play the game off set-pieces and keeping the ball in the closer, direct channels for the initial phases.
Ireland have made five changes to their starting side as injuries to winger Andrew Conway (hip), openside flanker Dan Leavy (sternum) and centre Garry Ringrose (foot) forced some of the changes. They still retain the front five that took control of the game last week, which might just worry the Wallabies a little.
Ireland will know that they have to continue to deprive the Wallaby runners of effective ball. They have to shut down the 10/12 and 15 combination and prevent the ball getting to the big-muscle carriers of Kerevi and Koroibete. They will also look to continue the tactic of keeping the kicked ball away from Folau.
One interesting little issue was raised in the week by Stephen Larkham when he questioned the “blocking” lines run by the Irish when turning to support a kick receiver. Larkham felt that the Irish were deliberately running blocking lines that prevent the Wallaby kick-chasers from effectively competing for the ball. He “wondered” at the legality of the tactic. I do believe that it was a bit of “pot, kettle, and black” by Larkham as the Aussies are themselves no slouches at running obstructive lines when protecting a kick-receiver. Whether the line run by a defender can be ruled to be obstructive may be a matter of interpretation, as the defender is perfectly entitled to maintain his position or his line once he has chosen to run, or stay static. He may not change his line or position to block someone… Anybody want to be a referee?
I am expecting more of the same from Ireland, and a somewhat more frantic, perhaps even aggressive, approach by Australia. Australia have to find a way to rattle the Irish composure if they want to win this one.
Ireland will be tired. It has been a very long season for some of their players, going back almost a full twelve months for those who were part of last year’s British & Irish Lions in New Zealand. That is the single biggest factor weighing against the Irish in this final Test of the series. But they are very proud of where their rugby is right now, and that pride may just be too much for the Aussies!
Australia will be desperate for a series win, they need it as a team, but they need it even more for rugby in Australia. The spectators who came to the previous two Tests were witness to the fact that there are still many supporters out there that want to watch quality ruby. Australia needs them to be there always. A win would help the cause.
Will Irish pride and passion overcome Wallaby desperation and need?
I think this Ireland team is just too polished and too well equipped to lose this one.
The Irish, by 10 points.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Lukhan Tui, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Pete Samu, 22 Joe Powell, 23 Reece Hodge
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Peter O’Mahony, 6 CJ Stander, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Jordan Larmour