Ireland v Australia
Ireland set for another southern scalp
Sam Bruce
November 20, 2014

There's just a little bit of symmetry to this week's clash between Ireland and Australia at Aviva Stadium. This time last year, it was New Zealander Joe Schmidt who'd barely wet his feet in the Test arena. The Kiwi was just three games into his Ireland stint as he tried to continue an unbeaten start to international rugby against the Wallabies in Dublin. Schmidt received a major reality check when his side was easily brushed aside 32-15, the Wallabies scoring four tries in a superb attacking display.

Fast forward 12 months and its Michael Cheika who's the new man on the Test block. As was the case with Schmidt 12 months ago, Cheika will pace about Landsdowne Road knowing all too well this is the biggest challenge of his short tenure so far. The Wallabies coach has, however, already received a wake-up call; last week's 29-25 loss to France ended the honeymoon period prematurely, and questions about the Wallabies' ability to play his up-tempo style of rugby are starting to fly. Ireland can cast further doubt on the capabilities of Cheika's Wallabies; Schmidt, one year in, has them flying.

In form

It's been a whirlwind few months for Ireland fly-half Jonny Sexton. After announcing he would be returning to Leinster next season after two years in France with Racing Metro, Sexton has broken his jaw, been nominated as one of five nominees - and the only European - for the World Rugby Player of the Year and then kicked 16 points as Ireland recorded an impressive 29-15 win over South Africa. Sexton is the northern hemisphere's premier fly-half and, with a greater licence to move the ball under Schmidt, he is capable of causing plenty of problems for a Wallabies side likely to be back-tracking under the pressure of a strong Irish pack.

James Slipper forms part of a Wallabies front-row consistently at the mercy of opposition packs, but little of the blame can be laid at the feet of the man who is arguably Australia's most-consistent Test performer. On a Paris night when even the seemingly mistake-free Israel Folau got a case of the dropsies, Slipper set about his usual business and made headway against a resilient French defensive unit. A touch of footwork at the line often sees Slipper beat the first defender, and only the Wallabies' reputation at scrum time denies him a position as one of world rugby's finest props.

Team News

  • Ireland have retained only two starters from the side that defeated Georgia, with Joe Schmidt returning to the men who dished up South Africa the week before. The key inclusion is that of Robbie Henshaw at centre outside Gordon D'Arcy, after he started in the No.12 jumper against the Springboks, and his defence against Tevita Kuridrani will be key. Up front, Rory Best, at hooker, is the key inclusion, while Rhys Ruddock returns at flanker as Chris Henry recuperates from his brain injury.
  • Michael Cheika has made four changes to his starting side that lost to France, with Henry Speight's selection to debut on the right wing the headline inclusion. Certainly the Wallabies will be looking to get him and Israel Folau into space between and outside the centre pairing of Matt Toomua, who has replaced Christan Leali'ifano, and Tevita Kuridrani. More importantly, given the lack of drive and carry up front in Paris, Cheika has recalled Sam Carter for James Horwill and named Luke Jones to make his first starting appearance at blindside flanker.

Out of form

There was once a time, probably when dinosaurs roamed the earth, where an Irish centre pairing without either of the names Brian O'Driscoll or Gordon D'Arcy was common place. So you'll understand if a few Dubliners were on the lookout for Pterodactyls a fortnight ago, when neither name showed up on the team-sheet against South Africa. O'Driscoll has of course retired, but D'Arcy is still running about at the age of 34 and made his comeback from injury against Georgia last weekend. An injury to New Zealand-born Ulsterman Jarryd Payne sees D'Arcy retain his place from last week, and book a showdown with recalled Matt Toomua at inside centre, but he has to prove he is more than a light of former years.

Michael Hooper has been one of the leading lights in Australian rugby this season, winning the Greg Growden Medal as Super Rugby Player of the Year and leading the Wallabies poll, but he has been a little below par on this end-of-year tour of Europe and could easily be showing the effects of a long and stressful season in which he has inherited both the Waratahs and Australia captaincy. He was unable to make ground with ball in hand in Paris, and questions were raised after the game about his performance in tight.

Key battle

Ball retention is all well and good, but 10-plus phase sets mean little if you're not making any impact on the defensive line. The Wallabies' inability to encroach on the advantage line against France meant the visitors found themselves moving from side to side in Paris, with the likes of Bernard Foley and Christian Leali'ifano finding themselves as one-out runners. The lack of a damaging ball-runner either at lock or in the back-row is holding the Wallabies back.

This isn't a problem for Ireland, with veteran lock Paul O'Connell and No.8 Jamie Heaslip capable of getting the hosts on the front foot. If Ireland dominate the advantage line, it could be a long night for the Wallabies.

Stats

  • Ireland's attack has flourished since Schmidt took over. The men in green are averaging 8.6 clean breaks and 19.3 defenders beaten in 12 Tests under the Kiwi, as opposed to 3.4 and 12.2 in the respective fields in the 12 encounters before his tenure began.
  • The recent history between the two sides in Dublin is split down the middle. The Wallabies triumphed last year while Ireland were the victors in 2009. Sandwiched between those two encounters the spoils were shared in a 20-all draw at Croke Park.

Odds

Ireland are slight favourites at $1.82; Australia are $2.

Tip

Michael Cheika has an intimate knowledge of Irish rugby from his time as Leinster coach, but that intellectual property was stockpiled long before the arrival of Joe Schmidt. Ireland will take a second southern scalp in the autumn with a three-point win.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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