Ireland: Dead Ahead - Green and Gold Rugby

Ireland: Dead Ahead

Ireland: Dead Ahead

I think we can all almost feel it. The sweet release of getting into test rugby. This year: the Irish. Sell outs already (in more ways than one?). So, a few thoughts:

1) The Irish are worried

Here’s the schedule for the top Irish players: A Lions tour; A full season of league and European rugby (Leinster won the whole thing); Then a whole year of continuous rugby, with November tour, and Six Nations, then a World Cup.

Jonny Sexton, Conor Murray et al had to have a break, and everybody thought it’d be in June 2018. But it isn’t. A lot of ways to read this, but it’s hard not to see this as Joe Schmidt worried that the momentum might be lost against the Pakistan of rugby: and Australian team with a few stars but dangerous at any time. Take note.

2) This will be the least experienced Australian team named in the pro era

Word came through last week that Michael Cheika had gathered 18 “senior players” to work on plans for 2018. You know, 5 or 6 are really senior players… 18 tells us that everyone bar 18 will be rookies or guys with under a year of test rugby. A squad of 30? 40% will be green. This will be an incredibly inexperienced group, which is a major cause for concern.

3) Last lessons first

It’s a psychological bias: the last things you learn stick with you. In this case, what Michael Cheika will have seen last week is two things. First, Aussie teams struggling to position themselves in kicking battles with NZ teams. And second, Aussie 9s again kicking way below international standard. The Waratahs were 14-0 up when Nick Phipps decided to kick out on the full and get charged down in consecutive exits. Ben Lucas offered much the same. Oh for Nic White…

4) Izack Rodda

Can we take a moment to talk about how awesome Isack Rodda is? Everything he does shows a commitment to quality. He’s already a leader in the Queensland pack, with a low error rate, super physical, and strong in all the technical areas. His partnership with Adam Coleman will be key this year. Rugby Australia should offer him a four year deal right now. Pure class. The difference between Rodda and Rob Simmons is the same as the difference between Simmons and me.

Photo courtesy of Keith McInnes

Rodda loves to smash. Photo courtesy of Keith McInnes

5) Bolters

As seen above, there are going to be a lot of them. At hooker, Michael Cheika will have to pick three of about 6 guys… and it really could be any three. And at 6 and 8, the stocks are thread bare. I’ve just bought some new boots in anticipation of the call up. But it’ll be fascinating to see where he goes.

Caleb Timu looked useful in the outer channels earlier in the year, and with David Pocock better within the 15s, that might work out for him. Lopeti Timani hasn’t produced this year, but has some experience in the set up. There are so many other long bets in this space.

The stage is set for a true out and out bolter – maybe not a Steve Merrick – but something close to it. Cheika might like Jed Holloway’s pace out wide coupled with lineout ability; he might fancy Angus Scott-Young’s physiciality; he might like the understated form of Michael Wells. None of them are great choices, but he has to pick someone. It’ll be telling to see who.

It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see a guy with fewer than ten Super Rugby caps, or a guy who isn’t first choice at his province (Izaia Perese) get a call up.

6) We have to research our refs

The Waratahs and Reds both played New Zealand oppositions over the weekend and lost. Both matches were winnable. As the last fifteen minutes loomed, neither played the ref.

Glen Jackson calls fewer penalties than any other Super Rugby ref. He’s from the school where if you let the teams play, and don’t make the calls that define the match, then you’re doing your job. That means as you enter those key minutes, you want to be leading, not chasing. Choosing to kick two penalties for offences within the 5 metres… that isn’t really going to help. You need to be leading going down the stretch. Sure enough, Glen didn’t call much the last 15 minutes and that made a huge difference on the game. Some of those non-calls were awful… but the difference is that the Chiefs were well placed to ride that out, and the Tahs weren’t.

Much the same picture for the Reds. Rasta Rashivenge is a great, technical ref. He’s by the book. So at 15-15, the Highlanders simply looked to go through the phases, over and over, looking for a penalty, and sure enough, they got one. The Reds looked like they wanted to defend their way out of the key minutes… but with Rasta, that’s a long-odds bet. Know your ref.

More generally, the refs simply aren’t policing certain areas at all, and the Wallabies should know that. First, chasers in front of the box kick… it’s like ARs aren’t even looking. Second, lineout jumpers forming mauls being the first to take contact… Ditto. The refs just don’t care: lifters are slipping right in front of the jumper, taking contact, and making it all but impossible to sack the maul. That means: maul.

Finally, refs are still – after twenty-five years of pro rugby – reluctant to card offences deep in a team’s territory when they’re not getting back onside. The Tahs got two second half penalties, on the break, within 5 metres of the opponents’ line. On one, Kurtley Beale was ruled to have passed it forward out wide (a pretty iffy call, really) over an offside player. A good ref would think contextually: the opposition is deliberately trying to close the space down to stop a try being scored, and merit a yellow card. Glen Jackson, being “no call” Glen, didn’t see this on either occasion, and plenty of refs don’t either.

One of the best calls in recent years came from Craig Joubert about five years ago early on in a match. He saw a tackler flopping on a tackled player, from a break away, about two metres out, slowing the play down. He pulled out a yellow, and said “It doesn’t matter if it’s the second minute or the seventy-second”. We desperately need refs to be attuned to players killing the play so as to reward the teams that try to play. NZ rugby is living off this reluctance to enforce the law right now.

The Wallabies can do two big things to manage these issues. First, they should make David Pocock captain. The refs respect him. That goes a long way. Ask Richie. Second, they should research the refs, and play accordingly. Rasta refs nothing like Glen does. And in the last phase of the game, they know that all refs are under the same instructions: “only call what is clear and obvious”. The trend is towards a non-call. So, play the ref.

7) Experience

We’re back to this. 18 players consulted. Out of 30 plus. That tells you Cheika will want experienced heads one year out from the World Cup. Remember 2015 when he brought back Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau, and Dean Mumm… There’s a pattern. You can’t develop kids without old heads.

Jono Lance is super unloved. Wasn’t loved at the Reds, or the Tahs, or the Force, where Kepler Wessels preferred Peter Grant, or the Rebels, where he was released. He’s never going to be the starting 10 for the Wallabies, but he fills a role at a position where we are paper thin.

Another possible (old head, not flyhalf) is Kane Douglas. Super physical, gets the job done, reliable. And just adds to the “been there done that” quotient. Certainly better than the ineffective Sam Carter and the variable Rory Arnold… not to mention Rob Simmons.

The other guy here is Scott Higginbotham. What can we say? An outstanding athelete. Fast up in the lineout. Real pace. Creative. Inspirational. How many coaches have lost their hair trying to get Scott to perform consistently? No sooner does he go up as an A level lineout option than he presents the ball clumsily, one-handed, to the ripper. That’s Scott.

But if anyone can get him together, it’s Cheika. They need to head to a bar with a bottle of tequila to work out how to mainline what Scott can offer.


Is Scott Higginbotham a leader in waiting for the Wallabies? Photo courtesy of Peter Mitchell

8) We’re still a chance- if we play smart

Ireland are the ultimate smart team in world rugby. Few players and resources. Great coaching. Smart play all the time. We probably can’t expect that from Australia – but we can hope to at least be more competitive. The scrum with Taniela Tupou and Sekope Kepu at 3 should be a problem. Israel Folau is hitting form again. David Pocock will be a nightmare.

But we still need to be smart: vary the pace of the game; scrum and maul for penalties; kick said penalties; and, above all, as all of you who have read me will know by now, Do what the opposition doesn’t want you to do. Ireland love structure, and are terrible at responding to unforeseen events. So: keep the ball alive, use forwards as ball players, throw the back three into the attack in midfield at all times, and be ever, ever unpredictable.

Also, pray for my friend Alex, who is engaged to an Irish lass. This could be key in securing the spawn’s fidelity/future eligibility, so let’s hope the men in gold deliver.

  • abr

    Gold – “The difference between Rodda and Rob Simmons is the same as the difference between Simmons and me”

    • Moose

      I liked that one too. Come on Jamie, you’re not that bad…

      • Brisneyland Local

        Pure Gold Moose!

    • OnTheBurst

      Totally brilliant. But just wait… Cheika will pick Simmons to start and have Phipps on the bench… oh the humanity!!!

  • Bobas

    Sam Carter has actually played well this year, looks to have his timing into contact when he’s attacking much better than in previous years, I don’t think he’s too far behind Dougie and he’s got more experience calling than anyone other than Simmons.

  • NickAJW

    I honestly reckon we have a good chance of beating Ireland. If you look at Ireland’s game vs Scotland (the team who probably play most like we (would like to?) play) Scotland had 4 or 5 absolutely gilt edged tryscoring opportunities which they squandered through horrific passing.

    Had their execution been better, there’s every chance that they won that match. Ireland conversely had 4 tryscoring opportunities, and scored…4 tries. If what I’m guessing we throw at them is a mostly Tah’s backline which can play fast and loose, and they don’t make mistakes (big if). We could beat Ireland relatively easily.

    Ireland do best when trying to play teams who play a hyper organised game against them, simply because Ireland do it better, thankfully, this means that they will hopefully continue to beat England :)

    This takes me back to the England series 2 years ago – We absolutely slaughtered them in the first 20 minutes of the first test (weren’t we up nearly 20-zip?) They then made a change, and we went to shit, for my money the first test is key.

  • Nicholas

    With the centralised IFU they can dictate to the clubs when to rest or play their players and a weaker domestic comp then the English, the Irish stars should be primed. Listening to the egg chasers players like Sean O’Brian have been keep in bubble wrap. Not so sure about the fatigue factor.

    • Nevan209

      Be under no illusions…..Ireland are coming fully primed. With central contracting by the IRFU and player welfare at the clubs being dictated by the national team….fatigue is not going to be a problem. It is all about momentum for Joe Schmidt. Just as an example: Johnny Sexton has only played 7 times for Leinster in 2018 and they were ALL the big one’s and he only played the full 80 twice. This is without doubt the STRONGEST Irish squad to EVER leave our shores…Grand Slam, European Cup and Domestic League Champs…unbeaten in 12 games….James Ryan has not lost a single match he has played as a professional rugby player……REAL options in every single position in the squad. This could be ‘EPIC’ as Oz ALWAYS ‘give it a lash’…. I cannot wait!!!! P.S. Sean O’Brien is not going, he is injured……but check out Jordan Larmour’s try against the Scarlets in the Pro14 Final on YouTube to give you some idea of what is coming…and…Tadgh Beirne (Pro14 Player of the year in 2017) will finally get capped.

      • Johnno

        The Irish guys have been well rested throughout the season

        • Caeliv Donnelly

          Fatigue is ALWAYS a problem for Ireland at this time of the year. We have never won a summer test match against AUS or NZ and that is despite player welfare policies been in place for nearly a decade. We are totally underestimating the Wallabies on home turf – they won’t play like they did last year.

        • Nevan209

          Caeliv….you are right in not underestimating the Aussies…but…wrong in comparing this squad to previous squads. Ireland 2 – 1.

        • Who?

          Will Australia play like 2016 instead..?
          It’s not unhealthy to have realistic expectations, but I don’t believe Ireland have been in Australia in June very often this decade (if they’d come to my state, I’d have gone, and I haven’t). So there’s very little relevant history to reference.

        • Caeliv Donnelly

          We were miles better than South Africa in 2014 but still managed to lose the series. Got battered in NZ 3-0 in 2012. We lost tests in both 2010 and 2008 down in Australia so there is ample evidence that we have zero form on these end of year tours and have plenty to overcome. This isn’t a team with the likes of O’Driscoll / O’Connell et al – and this young team has plenty on its plate to win this series. Now I still think we have a great chance of doing so but the common theme here in Ireland is that we should win comfortably – which is mental.

        • Who?

          This isn’t BOD and POC, but neither of those fine gentlemen ever tasted success against the ABs. Their playing records are exceptional, but perhaps their greatest legacy is that of showing that Ireland could achieve what many couldn’t dream. And handing on that belief to the next generation, who are carrying on their legacy.
          I didn’t think Ireland had been here since 2010 – the Wallabies have had a couple of new coaches since then. Not sure there’d be a single player still around from that tour. Whereas there’s a few who I think were around back then for Ireland. And the last time Ireland played Australia in the Southern Hemisphere, it was a masterclass in the art of the choke tackle and an Irish victory!

  • Mart

    Nice article Jamie.

    I think Jed Hollaway is massively underrated and needs more game time. He has size and mongrel, something Aus rugby needs.

    The point about the refs is spot on.
    Rugby has become so inconsistent with its reffing and the refs have become so influential on the outcome of games (see waratahs crusaders game here) that it would almost pay off to have a whole department on ref analysis as a team tactic.

    I’ve noticed that same thing with Jackson and i don’t mind it because at least he is consistent with no bias.

    Pocock would have a field day with Jackson But not Pyper.
    It almost changes your tactics completely.

    Ref management is huge. Good call on Pocock to captain. Although i can’t see him screaming at the ref the way Tj did to Okeefe which affected his intentional knock down call against reds.

    Who are the officials for the 3 games v Ireland?

    Please god not Nigel owens or Okeefe

    • Fatflanker

      We’re shot with a NH referee frankly – we’ll need the advantage of familiar interpretations, particularly at the breakdown.

      I’d love to see Cheika bite the bullet and bench one of Pocock or Hooper to allow us to have a proper 8 but never going to happen short of Hooper moving to the backline.

      • Mart

        Is it me, or is it really hard to find out who match officials are for upcoming games?

  • Who?

    A few quick things.
    – If you want to list things referees have no clue about penalizing, then list sealing off. Every other ‘ruck’ (I HATE the new laws) is created by someone diving in on their hands and knees, then standing up. That didn’t happen as much before, because you needed to be accurate enough to stop the opponent from picking up the ball while you were on the deck, as no ruck was formed until players made contact. So you couldn’t just dive in there, as the other player would simply avoid you and pick up the ball. Now, though, with the ruck formed by one player, players are desperate to form that ruck and create the offside line, prevent the jackal (because arriving prevents the pilfer where previously it was contact), and ensure lightning quick ball. The law change has created a deluge of players on their knees forming ‘rucks’ that are completely incontestable. And no one is penalizing it.
    – Clearly you don’t rate Simmons. I get it, he’s the new Nathan Sharpe (i.e. everyone said Sharpie was soft until after his hundredth Wallaby cap, and when he was gone, everyone missed him, they lauded his lineout expertise, his maul defence, etc. It was reflected by his treatment by Deans, seeing him regularly dropped for years (just like Simmons has been dropped, especially by Cheika) before Deans made him captain. But Kane “bring me home from Europe on the back of one solid Super season and pretty well nothing noteworthy in Tests so that I can play a few Tests and then struggle to make the Reds over the next three seasons” Douglas?! He and Simmons have been around for about the same amount of time. And every coach has picked the same way. Eventually, they’ve gone Simmons over Douglas (last year’s decision not to sign Simmons by the Reds doesn’t count, because he was in the team each week where Douglas wasn’t, and Douglas’ contract wasn’t due). Too many years of promises not delivered, far better to go with Coleman, Arnold, Arnold, Philip, Rodda, and yes, Simmons.
    – Higgers. I think he’s fantastic. But I don’t see that Cheika rates him, or will back himself to get the best out of Higgers. I hoped that Thorn would do that for both Cooper and Higgers this year. He gave up on Cooper before the season started, Higgers has barely played any footy. But if you’re going to get Higgers to stop the loose carries, surely you’d also get Sorovi to start feeding the ball into the scrum with two hands?! If I were his coach, he’d be back to club footy until he started showing he valued the ball by feeding it more securely, with two hands. I don’t care how good you are, you make your technique repeatable, and one handed is lazy and reckless.

    • st saens

      The Simmons Sharpe analogy is absolutely spot-on. Been thinking exactly the same thing for ages. Sharpe was regularly crucified on this and other rugby sites as being a powder puff, too soft in contact and chosen on reputation by idiot coaches. Suddenly he retires and we start to recognise his enormous contribution. From time to time Rob Simmons makes mistakes that make me pull my hair out, but when you watch his games objectively (with the Foxtel commentary on mute) you see that he contributes a heck of a lot to every team he plays for. Not fashionable, but a great contributor, and unfairly IMO singled out for cheap shots by many who write and comment about rugby.

      • sambo6

        Simmons has been playing the same way for years. The reason why the media and online ‘pundits’ are starting to value his contribution would seemingly have a lot to do with the colour of the jersey he now wears…..

  • Metootootoo

    On Rebels social media today is a video of a Qantas wallabies good will visit to Xavier College (today I assume) – there wearing Wallabies tees were Uelese, Naivalu, Phillip and Meakes – so I think we can assume they will be in the squad, as they were for the Spring Tour.


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