Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll to line out together for first time since 2011
Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien and Jonathan Sexton expected to return to starting line-up
Paul O’Connell at Ireland training in Carton House yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.
Ireland’s twin totems, Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll, are set to be re-united in an Irish team next Saturday for the first time since the 2011 World Cup quarter-final against Wales.
Indeed, with Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien and Johnny Sexton all set to be restored to the starting line-up when it is announced tomorrow, conceivably up to 11 of the team that beat Australia at Eden Park during that tournament could face the Wallabies again.
Defensive coach Les Kiss yesterday effectively confirmed that O’Connell will return to captain the side, with the coaching staff to therefore decide between Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy as his secondrow partner.
With Chris Henry ruled out, Kevin McLaughlin, James Coughlan and Shane Jennings are vying for the role of backrow cover, while Luke Marshall’s chances of usurping Gordon D’Arcy are perhaps enhanced by the anticipated return of Johnny Sexton bearing in mind Schmidt cited Paddy Jackson’s presence last week as a factor in picking the more experienced D’Arcy. Dave Kearney might also be putting pressure on Fergus McFadden after his two-try cameo on debut last Saturday.
Ian Madigan has suffered a little for his versatility, especially this season, but it should be a benefit this week. Although not put in front of the print media, Madigan’s appearance on radio strongly indicates he will be on the bench again rather than Jackson, given he can cover outhalf, centre and fullback. Tommy Bowe, who bruised his calf against Samoa, trained yesterday.
Discussing O’Connell’s return to lead the side, Kiss said: “Paul’s leadership for a start makes a difference in a lot of parts of our game, in the air, and defensively he’s just a workhorse, he does get around the park.
“Not only out there in the game, but his leadership off the field and the words that he says in the lead-up to the game in the last couple of days about making sure we’re focussed in all of our game, even in defence, he has a fair bit to say.”
Despite keeping Samoa tryless for the first time in 26 Tests, Kiss admitted that the Irish defence “needs to step up, without a doubt. I was a bit disappointed really in some areas of our defence, just getting broken a bit too easily at times. We just need to have a stronger mindset about certain parts of our game.”
While Ireland manufactured some turnover ball at the breakdown, they “took advantage of some sloppy ball-carry to ground by the Samoans” whereas in contrast “the Aussies are pretty quick, they accelerate into that area when the ball-carrier goes down. We’re going to have to be smarter, we’re going to have to be more dogged in that area, that’s definitely something we have to look at.”
Stopping Will Genia was critical to Ireland’s Eden Park win and though his form has dipped there were clear signs of a revival against Italy last Saturday, with Kiss noting the scrumhalf’s “massive” threat, “and the danger is you put a magnifying glass on him and you take your eye off something else.”
Also citing the threats posed by of Quade Cooper, Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nick Cummins, Kiss said: “You need to be across the park on these guys, but it does essentially operate around what Genia does, and you have to be very careful in that area about being passive.”
* Tom Court is to leave Ulster at the end of the season to take up a three-year contract with London Irish.