Wallabies versus Ireland: key points to watch for

Brendan November 13, 2013 40

No GravatarI’ll be at this weekend’s Test between the Wallabies and Ireland – here are a few thoughts on it.

Australia’s pre-match planning

I’ll never forget the bewildered faces of Will Genia and Kurtley Beale after the World Cup meeting of these two sides in Auckland. Both players recalled the Irish players going for the choke tackle at every opportunity and looked genuinely shocked at the Irish tactics. Their pre-match team meetings may have had a similar tone to Kearnsy’s thoughts:

Now it was the only clear play in Ireland’s tactics as it was all that they had been trying to do for a year in defence. It showed a clear lack of Wallaby respect for their opponents and called into question what exactly they had been doing during game week.

This week, what will the Wallabies see if they do a bit of time in the video room? One of the things they could take advantage of is Ireland’s narrow defence out wide; if Quade Cooper has one of his better days he can use his outstanding passing ability to put the likes of Izzy Folau, the Honey Badger and Ashley-Cooper into space.

They’ll also see that there are more than a few Ireland players who seek out contact even when in open space. The Wallabies can be sure if Fergus McFadden, Robert Kearney or Jamie Heaslip (amongst others) get the ball they tend to put the head down and go to ground. This would allow the Wallabies to commit more men to the tackle area in this situation to slow down Irish ball.

Michael Hooper will note that Peter O’Mahony carries the ball tucked under his left elbow and is ripe for a pilfering when he goes to the deck. The Wallabies under Deans clearly didn’t show enough respect to prepare as if it was the All Blacks, but the one-per-centers could make the difference between two evenly matched teams.

The aerial battle

This could be the first time in Israel Folau’s short career in rugby that he doesn’t have things all his own way in the air. In fact it is probably the safest two guys in international footy under a high ball going up against each other. His direct opponent Rob Kearney played Gaelic Football to an inter county standard at junior level and is often the focal point of any Irish kicking plans. He is frequently used for short kick-offs and is Irelands main jumper when challenging short kick-offs. It is going to be a real treat watching Folau and Kearney in the air against each other.

If Tommy Bowe is fit, which is doubtful at this stage, Ireland will have two accomplished Gaelic Footballers in their back three so Cooper would be advised against over doing any kicking in attack as they are superb under the high ball. Jonny Sexton and Conor Murray will be looking to put up contestable garryowens and box kicks to Cummins’ wing as there is a perception up Norf’ that he is a liability under the high ball. Off the ball Folau will have to work hard to try and cover this as if Kearney contests against the Badger there will be only one winner.

Irish physicality in midfield

Sexton runs   in Lions vs Force 2013

Ireland are expected to go with a 9,10,12 axis of Murray, Sexton, Marshall. Wallaby fans will be familiar with the first two but won’t have seen a lot of Luke Marshall who is a physically imposing No.12, who started life as a number five-eighth – which has given him a decent kicking game and lovely hands.

This means Ireland will have three guys in the midfield who are over six foot with physiques to match. To put it bluntly Australia will get no change going through the middle. All three are top defenders and the Wallabies will need to be smart with any midfield ball which they have.

Similarly in attack Ireland will looking to target Cooper and Tevita Kuridrani with Murray and Sexton looping around a hard running Marshall. If Cooper can get the runner down and combine with the back row to slow down Ireland ball they’ll have gone a long way to stopping the Irish attacking plans. In recent seasons if you can stop Ireland scoring after three phases the likelihood of them scoring plummets as they look a bit clueless in attack.

Outside of Marshall, Ireland’s defence looks a bit shaky, Brian O’Driscoll  has looked suspect in his limited game time this season and the wingers defended very narrowly against Samoa. As I mentioned before the Wallabies have enough passing ability to bypass Irelands big three and try and expose some weaknesses out wide.

Back row battle

The last time these teams met the Irish trio dominated their Australian counterparts who where decimated by injury. Ireland’s back row won’t be as physical this time as they have lost the outstanding Stephen Ferris to long term injury and replaced him with a more athletic back rower in the mould of England’s Tom Croft; Peter O’Mahony.

Sean O’Brien is Ireland’s best player, in fact probably the only one to trouble the World XV selectors, and is key to them winning the game. He is improving at the breakdown and is now one of the top operators there in the Northern Hemisphere. However his real strength is with ball in hand; he’ll be aiming to steam roll Quade Cooper as often as possible and retains most of the responsibility of getting Ireland onto the front foot. If he is carrying in close he struggles with the chop tackle, and tends to hold onto the ball once he breaks rather than look to offload.

If the Australians can limit his impact with ball in hand this mini battle and the match will be tipped into their favour. Michael Hooper will look to take advantage of some soft shoulders and immobile front row forwards to get the Aussies moving. He hasn’t seen a lot of the Irish team but he’ll fancy his chances against the likes of Ross, O’Connell and McCarthy with ball in hand.

Ben Mowen will relish attacking the Irish set piece out of touch. No doubt his Brumbies team mates will have reminded them how they picked apart Rory Best during their historic win in Canberra during the Lions tour. Mowen is the kind of mobile ‘light weight’ jumper that Best and O’Connell are prone to struggling against in the lineout. As O’Connell has aged his ability to get up ahead of springier forwards has diminished rapidly.

The BOD factor

ODriscoll BOD and Jackson  in Lions vs Force 2013

O’Driscoll will feel like he has unfinished business against this Wallaby team as they helped to finish his Lions career and not in the note which he would have wanted. Every game this season is part of an extended swansong for him and he has to be careful about trying to be the hero in every game.

There were a few times against Samoa when he went for the big play or the big hit when he needed to take the more sensible option. Australia can exploit his rushing out of the defensive line with quick hands, and may see some turnover ball if he tries the miracle offload as he did once or twice on Saturday.

As special as this season will be for BOD each No.13 he faces gets the chance to be the last bloke to get one over him. Ireland can not underestimate how massive this is and Tevita Kuridrani will be licking his lips at the chance to be the man to finish BOD. There is no doubt class left in the man, but can the body keep up with the mind?

It should be a cracking game on Saturday, and with the current injuries that the Wallabies have, both sides are evenly matched. Ireland will look at attack the Wallaby scrum at every opportunity but with fine weather predicated there may not be many chances to do this.

Australia have the more talented backs from numbers 11 to 15 but Ireland have the better five-eighth. If Jonny Sexton can bring his top form into the game I see Ireland winning by three, though my heart might be ruling my head in this prediction.

Either way we are in for a cracking game, and I can’t wait to see Folau and Kearney contest the first high ball!

Discussion

  • Mica

    Is Healy expected to start this weak? If so I hope we play Slipper at TH and even then being able to nullify Healy will be the hope. If BA is our TH, it’ll probably end up a massacre unless he starts to bend his knees enough to stop Healy getting underneath him and keep his back parallel and strong so he doesn’t get folded. A vain hope I expect.

    • Colm O’Keane

      Looks likely he will, been taking full part in training as far as I’ve read.

      Surprised he was overlooked in this buildup, for a man of his considerable bulk he is nimble (his pastimes include rollerblading. I shit you not) with a good set of hands. And he can scrum.

  • Ian Daley

    Wonderful writeup Brendan!

    I think when we look back at RWC2011 we have to say the Wallabies were very much unprepared for the pool matches and as you put it, didn’t respect their opponents. I don’ think this is going to be a problem come Saturday. If we can show Ireland the same respect we showed Italy, we should approach the game with some focus.

    • Garry

      and this time they’ll have a game plan.

  • Antony

    I don’t remember Sexton being a particular strong defender. Great player, for sure, but I would have thought the Wallabies would be seeing him as a bit of a weak link in the line (as with pretty much every 10 ever). Tell me if I’m wrong though, and I’ll stop defaming him.

    • gooper

      You are wrong.

      • http://www.greenandgoldrugby.com/ Matt Rowley

        well argued

      • Antony

        Good contribution champ.

        • Ian Daley

          That’s the problem with the youth of today. They ask for something, get it, and still complain.

        • Gold12

          Those damned 14 year olds!

    • Rugby_Union

      I lived in Ireland for years-sexton is a reasonable player. Reasonable attack, reasonable defence, good kicking. He is one of the better five eighths in the world-no real holes in his arsenal. That said he does not really excel in any aspects of his game either. He may be the best in the NH at the mo-but when Preistland (welsh) was on form he was better.

      The rest of the competition is really average-Flood is a kickbot with occasional nous in attack. Farrel is just a kickbot. Wales dont really have a steady five eight and Scotlands 10 is actually a converted nice now days…

    • Colm O’Keane

      I wouldnt go so far as to say he’s a Johnny Wilkinson level hitter, he may lose yards but you rarely see clean breaks directly down his channel. Whether by design or inclination he tends to hold players up rather than knock them down. Either way I dont close my eyes like I used to whenever someone lined up ROG or Humphreys before him.

  • subfreq

    Great write up.

    In the WC we had no backup 7 and Moore was injured so effectively our two most effective ball carriers at the time were absent and Ireland had prepared for two years for that game specifically. It showed because mentally they were spent after it and got spanked by Wales.

    Of note this weekend look for the Irish centres to push hard our of defence, too hard in my opinion and either QC or Toomua must be alert to kicking in behind the space. Even last week the Samoans found space with passing against this.

    BOD has lost a key yard of pace so has adapted his game to crazy levels of brilliance in decision making. His choices of passes and lines of running are almost impossible but if he breaks he no longer runs free to score. This swan song season is about one thing and one thing only – One more crack at being the first to beat NZ.

    Ireland compete at the breakdown very well across nearly the entire team and I expect this to be one of the key areas in the game. I would say the scrums and line outs are evenly matched. If both teams get equal amounts of go forward possession the Australian back line should prevail. It is superior but the forwards will have to see off a manic battle in the first 50 minutes.

    • Colm

      You mention the breakdown, but in regards to the Irish attack, their break-down play is nothing special, particularily the way they clear out rucks. Many of their cleaners just flop over the ball rather than arriving there earlier and driving through to dominate that space in behind. As a result their phase play can seem very pedestrian and slow. From what I saw, from afar, the Irish attacking play in the Six Nations was truly atrocious with little variety and I hardly recall seeing an inside ball in the whole tournament. They also seemed to lose a lot of structure and there was many an example after just a few phases they were all over the place. For all the criticism the Wallabies are getting they have more natural rugby players. I couldn’t see the Irish going to Argentina or Italy and scoring over 50 points, so if they win this weekend I don’t believe it will be scintillating rugby. If they stop the Wallabies from getting good clean ball, it’ll be a tough day, no doubt.

      I think you are also being too kind to O’Driscoll. No doubt he WAS a great but he has lost more that a yard of pace and there have been relatively few line breaks for the last 5 years, for which he was known. I think you are also over-rating his distribution skills. When it comes to the ‘so-called’ simple draw and pass, he is not as good as is reported and wouldn’t come close to Conrad Smith in this department imho from the 13 position. He can do some eye-catching passes all right but his career consistency of distribution and doing the simpler passes is exaggerated. He has thrown many a pass that is not on the money and have slowed down moves. He also rarely seems to take the ball into contact and again in comparison to someone like Conrad Smith, he doesn’t optimise the space for his winger as well as what a true great should do. He does run great lines and would score more tries than a Conrad Smith but a Conrad Smith for me does the so-called simpler things better.

      I’d be disappointed if McKenzie dropped Kuridrani so that Ashley-Cooper could mark O’Driscoll because I think that is paying way too much respect to O’Driscoll. From what I’ve read though, Link has decided to stay the same which is good.

      Good if the weather is good. i remember reading Matt Burke’s book and him saying how he never remembered playing in Ireland when it wasn’t raining.

      • subfreq

        Spot on with your 6 Nations observations. Kidney set up an awfully static team which ultimately cost him his job.

        Schmidt, whilst untested at international level, had Leinster playing the best first phase attacking and aggressive breakdown play in Europe for the last three years.

        I totally agree with you on BOD and that Ewen should select Kuridrani, which thankfully he did. BOD was afforded aura status for many years which meant he drew extra players and was marked differently. I don’t see any reason now why that would be the case but he is still the axis in the back line. If anything I think the way he shoots from defense is his biggest weakness and one Conrad Smith consistently exposes him on. Having a second five eight in the team should allow us options in that regard.

        • Colm

          Yeah – happy to see Kuridrani play. I just think the Irish have some serious limitations in their game. Sure they can win one-off test matches but to compete consistently and get to the next level, you need better foundations, meaning producing players with greater skill-sets that play to a better structure. The attacking side of the game is without doubt the greatest weakness they have as they don’t do the simple things well enough across the board. I don’t see many creative players.
          Reddan to me looks a very rushed and hectic player who lacks composure and whose distribution is inconsistent in a key position. [In the past even Tomas O’Leary was preferred ahead of him, who is probably the worst passer of a ball I have ever seen at test level so that is not good] Sexton doesn’t appear to do many errors but it is still in the air as to whether he can play consistenly closer to the defensive line.
          Clean ball, you’d fancy the Wallabies but the breakdown mightn’t be clean and then the Irish will fancy their chances. Plus they are at home which history shows is an important factor.

  • Intotouch

    I was totally amazed that the Australian players were surprised by the choke tackle in the World Cup! It had been used for the previous year by Ireland and was a trade mark. That and the fact that they couldn’t name more than two Irish players and that no one interviewed before the match mentioned O’Brien or Ferris made me think that they did close to zero preparation for the Ireland game. If both of them were playing next week I’d expect an Irish win.

    Stephen Ferris is a sore loss to Ireland, and although Peter O’Mahony is a fine player and a leader on the pitch watch out for the trouble this man gets into. If there’s a fight or agro, he’ll be at the heart of it. I don’t know who this benefits.

    O’Connell is in excellent shape at the moment and I don’t buy this notion that he won’t be competitive at the line out. I expect the opposite.

    Kearney (Rob not Dave) has not been in form this season. Zebo is injured, Bowe looks iffy so I’d agree that the back three look weaker than during the 6 nations.

    Sexton is an excellent defender so if Australia sees his channel as the place to aim they’ll get nowhere.

    The defensive mistakes last week against Samoa must be tackled otherwise Australia will win by 20 though.

  • Haggis

    Just to mention, Tommy Bowe is pretty much guaranteed to start. Luke Marshall is not over 6ft. He’s just about 5’11. It’s also expected that Schmidt will go with Murray, Sexton and D’Arcy.

    • wowjiffylube

      D’Arcy’s unlikely after that display on Saturday. Nothing for respect for the beard and all he’s done, but he’s in the twilight of his career now.

  • brianfitz1

    I think you’ll get more change in that midfield than you reckon, Marshall is a very good player but I think as he only has so few caps, either side of him would be the place to attack for the wallabies with the unfamiliarity in that midfield, I wouldn’t rate Johnny Sexton’s defence so well either as he tackles very high so can create choke tackles but can lead to big yardage gains too. There will be yards to be made on whatever side Tommy Bowe isn’t on out wide, but unlikely on his side. The BOD factor is something Australia should be worrying about more so than seeing as an advantage, the man is still pure class and that was his 2nd game of the season so I wouldn’t read too much into that Samoa performance, with the cobwebs blown off he’ll be as dangerous and reliable in defence as ever. I see Australia scoring one try more than Ireland so it’ll depend on kickers and possibly scrum penalties as well.

    • wowjiffylube

      Marshall is relatively inexperienced true, but so is the Wallaby midfield, and he has the form outhalf in the NH on one side of him and the greatest centre to play the game on the other. In addition, he can handle pressure, having been thrown in at the deep end with an inexperienced and injury-wracked Ireland during the Six Nations.

      Sexton is a very solid all-round defender but, as you say is noticeable particularly during choke tackles, usually though, due to Ireland’s narrow defensive strategy, he is accompanied by one of his beefier colleagues, (this wasn’t used to it’s greatest effect on the Lions tour). His defense in general, though not as replay worthy, is as good if not better than any 10 going, he rarely falls off a tackle and has surprising stopping power, especially on his own tryline.

  • WaikatoKid

    Great to see an article like this, thanks for the build up!

    Agreed that Folau is great at catching the high balls and he is also great when he makes the 2 or 3 good runs from it…. BUT what about the rest of the time?
    I’m worried about his apparent lake of tactical kicking ability – a steady hand (or foot) at fullback is needed to put the pressure and the Wallabies down the other end of the park.

    I’ve seen QC covering this aspect of the game at times, but surely it distracts him from the line, knowing that he may be needed at the back of the park?

    Having said that – maybe it’s something that Folau is aware off and working on? He can definitely kick, just needs more nous.

    • Pclifto

      Lack of interest in passing is also an issue for Izzy…

    • Who?

      Go back and look at the last game – Quade wasn’t covering deep for the Wallabies, but Toomua was back there with Folau kicking quite a bit.

      • WaikatoKid

        This is more of a general observation.

        It’s not that Folau can’t kick – it’s wether he is a tactically effective kicker. And the kicks I have seen from him have not, to me at least, been delivered to much tactical advantage.

        I’m not saying he’s crap – I’m highlighting an area of the game which I think the WB’s are deficient in.

        Makes a change from criticising the forward pack all the time, maybe there are other issues putting pressure on them.

        • Who?

          The Italy game. Toomua was often covering back.
          I agree – Folau can kick. It’s not the most natural looking technique, but it’s a fairly relaxed looking approach and he’s consistent in his execution. I agree his biggest issue is picking where he wants to kick, not actually kicking itself.
          I’m not arguing the rest of your points (Folau’s kicking and workrate), I’m just pointing out that Quade’s in the defensive line, and, whilst he’s a good player and excellent defender, Toomua helping to cover the backfield isn’t a bad thing. Even last year, we saw a lot of Barnes covering back (even before he was playing 15). So I don’t see it as a big issue for Quade, or Toomua. It’s something that we’ve been doing before Folau arrived. And at least it’s not stealing a forward, the way that Parisse always tends to hang back for Italy.
          But I absolutely agree that kicking’s an absolutely key role for the fullback. It’s a reason why I argued for him as a right wing earlier in the season (with Mogg at 15 – before he had to play back to back Tests against the ABs, and then go get his shoulder fixed). The Tahs are saying he’ll play centre, I’m not sure he’s up to that (they tried to put him at centre in League, it never worked). I think Folau’s gotten himself into a position where he MUST be picked, it might just be that AAC needs to swap and play 15, with Folau on the right wing, and Cummins on the left. It’s only one boot back (Badgers aren’t known for their tactical ball kicking), but at least it’d be centred.

        • WaikatoKid

          I was impressed by Toomua in the Italy game, things are shaping up well with him in the mix.

          Agreed on Folau to wing. Not sure AAC will win the top tier kicking battles though – still the hardest working, most reliable man in gold at the moment for my money.

          Still think the Boks and AB’s are going to exploit the long kicking game – but that’s a problem for next season now!

      • WaikatoKid

        And whether it’s QC or Toomua it’s still the FB’s job no?

  • ralph

    O’brien is a white Tongan. What a rhino. He’d be great in league.

  • Bill

    I’ll be a bit appalled if Gill isn’t selected ahead of Hooper.

    • Seb V

      would love to see Gill start but realistically i highly doubt it will happen

      • Bill

        Even just from a squad rotation point of view, 5 games in 5 weeks it makes sense to me, but it just seems obvious to me on functionality as well. Bringing Gill in that is. Be interesting to see the other back 5 positions in the pack though, that seemed to work well in the context of that opponent. How that would go against Ireland or Wales.

  • Bill

    I like Sexton but I think you’re right to say he isn’t in Cooper’s class, just not in the sense you mean it.

    • Dave

      Agreed. Great article but the second last line I can’t agree with.

      Cooper’s the most dangerous man in world rugby on his best day, it will be his consistency here on that will determine how he’s remembered.

      • Bill

        If Cooper wasn’t available and i could pick any other 5/8 in world rugby I’d have Beauden Barret, then Foley from the tahs and then Sexton. Sexton’s a class act but I don’t think anyone’s in Cooper’s class at the moment, that’s no slight on Sexton, and it isn’t a garuantee of performance from Quade, but there’s no other 5/8 I’d look forward to watching as much.

        • from on high

          Cooper (Ithink he is playing well, but) better than Carter, Cruden? really?

        • galumay

          One good game against weak opposition and you rate him that highly? Its no secret I dont like QC, but even in my most generous moment I wouldnt rate him anything like that highly.

  • Pclifto

    Nice one Brendan, enjoyed the read. Anyone know when the WBs team will be announced?

  • Who?

    Bit harsh on Quade there, to say that Sexton’s clearly ahead of him. I’m with most on here, Quade at his best is better, Sexton’s more consistent. What I think we can all agree on is that we’ve got probably the best non-All-Black 10′s playing this weekend, the ones with the best vision and passing games. And I really hope that both get to show their full complement of tricks – if they can, it’ll be an absolute cracker of a game.

  • Drongo

    Fantastic overview Brendan! Great insights into the irish players. thanks mate! I don’t share the view that we are evenly matched. I think this is the Wallabies hardest test as the Irish team look great. Irish will be like sharks smelling blood post the Wallaby loss in Lions. Our one ‘weapon’ QCs long passing game will fall into their hands if they flood the midfield and look to knock off the receiver. They can then attack the ensuing ruck and ensure a penalty or a pilfer. Plus his long passing game will be under immense pressure if our forwards are going backwards. Wallabies without a proper goal kicker. Irish by 10-20 I think. Caveat that I will be happy as long as we play with some tactical nous and ticker. Even more happy if we actually win! Can’t wait.

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