Ireland v Australia, Croke Park, November 15
Ireland look to scupper Wallabies slam bid
November 13, 2009
Australia skipper Rocky Elsom makes a swift return to Dublin this weekend a few months after the end of his sabbatical with Leinster © Getty Images
Australia will face arguably the toughest test on their quest for Grand Slam glory when they tackle Six Nations champions Ireland at Croke Park on Sunday.
With their own clean sweep of the northern hemisphere's finest earlier this year still fresh in the mind and bolstered by the return of their courageous if not victorious British & Irish Lions, the hosts appear well-placed to score a repeat of their 2006 success over the Wallabies. They will find the under-fire tourists in bullish mood following their impressive victory over England at Twickenham last weekend however.
The battle-hardened Wallabies were off the pace in this year's Tri-Nations but still had too much for England who finished as runners-up to the Irish in this year's battle for the northern hemisphere crown. Robbie Deans' well-regimented side weathered an early storm before snuffing out the England challenge with an impressive forward display that strangled the life out of the injury-ravaged hosts.
A highly-charged Irish backline will no doubt have more luck in unlocking the Wallabies but they will have to meet fire with fire up front if they are to secure the priceless quick ball required to trouble Australia. The battle of the breakdown is increasingly pivotal and the match up of Wallabies captain Rocky Elsom and Ireland's Stephen Ferris and the presence of the likes of Ireland No.8 Jamie Heaslip and his oppositie number Wycliff Palu will make for compulsive viewing.
Leading the Irish into battle again will be centre Brian O'Driscoll who will be keen to celebrate the occasion of his 100th Test cap with a victory. The Leinster star guided Ireland to a long-awaited success at Lansdowne Road two years ago where the boot of fly-half Ronan O'Gara proved key. The Munster No.10, who is closing in on a notable double of a century of caps and 1,000 Test points, certainly has something to prove in his first international outing since his infamous cameo in the Lions' second Test defeat in Pretoria.
O'Gara will be partnered by provincial colleague Tomas O'Leary while Leinster prop Cian Healy will make his debut with an injury to Marcus Horan ruling him out of the fixture. Elsewhere in the front row there is a place for John Hayes fresh from serving a five-week ban for stamping - such is the veteran's standing. Ulster skipper Paddy Wallace will partner O'Driscoll in the centre with Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney completing an exciting backline. Leinster's talented fly-half Jonathan Sexton and Connacht hooker Sean Cronin are also in line for debuts off the bench.
An experienced pack featuring Lions captain Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan in the second-row will pack down with confidence for what is sure to be a bruising encounter.
Elsom, no stranger to Dublin following his sabbatical with European champions Leinster, will be at the heart of the Wallabies' efforts alongside recalled flanker David Pocock and the strong-running Palu. A new-look centre partnership of Quade Cooper and Digby Ioane impressed at Twickenham last time out and their work rate went a long way to shackling England's limited attacking game.
Fly-half Matt Giteau and scrum-half Will Genia benfitted from the endeavours of their pack with the No.9 claiming man of the match honours but England were guilty of making things a little too easy for them - a mistake the Irish will have learnt from.
The Wallabies, long hailed as having the potential to be world-beaters, finally looked like fulfilling that promise with a big game performance at Twickenham and that victory will not only have taken the heat of Deans but also brought some belief to a squad battered by the All Blacks and Springboks in this year's Tri-Nations.
They will be under pressure to back that performance with another of similar intensity but they will be stepping into the unknown to a certain degree with their first visit to Croke Park. An 82,000 capacity crowd will provide a special welcome to both sides but especially the hosts in their first outing at the stadium since clinching the Grand Slam.
Unlike England, the Irish will be at close to full strength but the question is whether they can reproduce the form that brought them that long-awaited success earlier this year?
Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), P Wallace (Ulster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster); R O'Gara (Munster), T O'Leary (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Connacht), T Court (Ulster), L Cullen (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), K Earls (Munster).
Australia: A Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies); P Hynes (Queensland Reds), D Ioane (Queensland Reds), Q Cooper (Queensland Reds), D Mitchell (NSW Waratahs); M Giteau (Brumbies), W Genia (Queensland Reds); B Robinson (NSW Waratahs), S Moore (Brumbies), B Alexander (Brumbies), J Horwill (Queensland Reds), M Chisholm (Brumbies), R Elsom (Brumbies, capt), D Pocock (Western Force), W Palu (NSW Waratahs).
Replacements: T Polota-Nau (NSW Waratahs), M Dunning (Western Force), D Mumm (NSW Waratahs), G Smith (Brumbies), L Burgess (NSW Waratahs), R Cross (Western Force), J O'Connor (Western Force).
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa).
Assistant referees: Christophe Berdos (France), Andrew Small (England)