Ireland v Australia, Rugby World Cup 2011, September 17
Irish inspired by Rocky legacy
September 13, 2011
Elsom takes a line-out ball against Italy © Getty Images
Rocky Elsom may wear Australia's colours at Eden Park on Saturday but Denis Leamy credits him for having a profound impact on Ireland's back row.
Just one season at Leinster was enough for Elsom to seal his place as one of the province's all-time greats. A man-of-the-match performance in the 2009 Heineken Cup final was his swansong before returning to Australia to win back his place with the Wallabies.
Leamy insists the bulldozing 28-year-old flanker's influence continues to be felt in the guise of his former Leinster team-mates Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip. Two seasons after Elsom was crowned European player of the year the rampaging O'Brien earned the same accolade, while Heaslip has developed into a world class No.8.
"Rocky had quite a big impact on Irish rugby during the brief time he was playing in Ireland," said Leamy, the Munster back row. "In his time at Leinster he was excellent, from what I could gather looking in. He brought on the guys around him.
"He's left a bit of a legacy there. Jamie and Sean were younger than him and he's definitely rubbed off on them. You can see the dynamism in their game, it's very similar to the way Rocky plays."
Elsom, who was relieved of the Wallaby captaincy just three weeks before the World Cup started, was feared across Europe for his destructive ball-carrying and bone-crunching impact in the tackle. The blindside was in imposing form in the latter stages of the Tri-Nations and his threat must be contained if Ireland are to have any hope of upsetting the 1/5 favourites.
"I've played against some very good back rows over the last few years and he's certainly right up there at the top," added Leamy. "There's nothing he can't do. He has a fantastic engine, is a tall man who is good in the line-out and is extremely strong with the ball. There aren't many weaknesses to his game and he is always very influential in matches."
The Irish back-row face a busy evening at Eden Park, with Leamy highlighting the role they will play in containing Wallaby playmakers Quade Cooper and Will Genia. Cooper and Genia are Test rugby's most exciting and unpredictable half-back combination and must be watched closely.
"Australia are full of quality so there will be threats across the park," said Leamy. "But you have to really look at nine and 10. They're huge players with a lot of pace and a lot of guile. Any rugby fans or anyone who has half an interest in the game will know how good these guys are and how they can change a game in an instant.
"They're very exciting to watch, hopefully we can shut them down. Our back row must put as much pressure on them as possible. We'll have to work as unit because if anyone steps out of line, they'll exploit the space."
Victory over Australia would see Ireland place one foot in the quarter-finals, but on current form it is hard to see where the type of performance they require will come from. Apart from their stunning victory over England in March, the team have struggled for consistency and form, with their 22-10 win against the United States failing to dispel the negativity that now pursues the team.
Behind the scenes the squad has trained well, according to the management, but Leamy is cautious over reading too much into what happens on the practice field.
"It can be funny, sometimes you train very poorly but you'll go out and have a really good game and result," Leamy said. "Sometimes you train like a storm but it just doesn't happen on the day. It's not a fine science."
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