Ireland prepared for one last push as they eye series glory
‘If we can pull this one off, it will be a little bit special for this group’ says Schmidt
Tadhg Furlong scores Ireland’s second try as he stretches for the line during the second Test at the AAMI Park, Melbourne. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
It’s not quite the Thrilla in Manilla. For starters, there’s nothing like the bad blood between Australia and Ireland which existed between Ali and Frazier, but the third part of the two countries’ first ever Trilogy will come down to a decider in a sold-out 45,000 capacity Allianz Stadium in Sydney next Saturday.
Back in 1975, it was Ali who completed a second successive win after losing the first instalment, but after ending an 11-game, 39-year run without a win over the Wallabies on Aussie soil, Joe Schmidt knows full well that this time the home side are the wounded ones.
Coming at the end of a long, high-achieving season, featuring a third Grand Slam and first Leinster double in history as well as Munster two semi-final runs, a first series win away to one of the Southern Hemisphere big three since 1979 is the last prize. One last push.
“It is going to be massive, absolutely massive,” admitted Schmidt.
“If we can pull this one off, it will be a little bit special for this group that have come on tour. It was great to get another debutant on today with Tadhg Beirne because that keeps growing the competition internally, to help us be as competitive as we can be externally, because the competition does not get much hotter, than 1-1 in Sydney against the Wallabies, with a chance to win the series.”
Schmidt and his coaching team sought to grow the squad with the first Test selection but, having levelled the series, this Sydney decider demands Ireland put their best foot forward. Schmidt hinted as much when he said there was no preconceived plan for selection beyond the first Test.
“It was kind of more like we will see how it will go after one. We knew there were risks that we took in the first Test, but if we did not take those risks, then you will never know. What we didn’t want, as a coaching staff, was to be a year down the track and still not know. So that was part of it and that will continue to be a part of it but balancing that is an opportunity that is a little bit special.
“There were some absolutely champions, who have done the two in a row over here, and I spoke to Ollie Campbell before I came out here. He is a fantastic fella, and a guy I have a huge amount of respect for. His quiet word is a little bit of a word of confidence. At the same time it is a little bit of a challenge, for this modern team, can they do it? So, I guess in a week’s time we will know.”
Viewed in that light, the team should thus closely resemble last Saturday’s winning selection in Melbourne, from where the squad moved on yesterday, pending fitness updates. Cian Healy (A/C) looks the most doubtful, with Schmidt confident that Dan Leavy (sternum) and Andrew Conway (hip) should recover.
Presuming Jacob Stockdale, Iain Henderson and Bundee Aki come back into the mix, that would seemingly leave Schmidt with decisions between Conway and Stockdale on the wing, Robbie Henshaw and Aki at inside centre, Rob Herring and Niall Scannell at hooker, and Devin Toner and Henderson at lock. Given last Saturday’s improved performance, the coaches may lean toward retaining Conway, Henshaw and Toner, while reinstating Herring.
The memory of losing the series decider in South Africa two years ago is also recent enough to serve as motivation.
“They always do because you remember those ones more than the ones you do get, because they are missed opportunities, and you want to nail as many opportunities as you can. So it is probably at the back of your minds, although the team is very different to that day,” said Schmidt. “But at the same time, it is always relevant.”
By contrast, Michael Cheika and the Wallabies coaches have several selection issues, and are also resigned to being without Will Genia (broken arm) and probably lock Adam Coleman, who did not suffer any facial fractures but must be very doubtful.
The experienced Nick Phipps should start at scrumhalf, with the 24-year-old ACT Brumbies scrumhalf Joe Powell on the bench after playing just 30 minutes in his three caps while in the Wallabies squad for more than a year.
Although Cheika said Genia suffered a “king hit”, meaning a blindside hit, the incident involving Healy looked innocuous, and the Wallabies coach said there were not of a mind to pursue the matter with New Zealand citing commissioner Mike O’Leary.
“I’d rather look at ourselves. No excuses, mate. We gave away too many penalties, the things we could control we didn’t control and that led to losing. We were playing against a very good team and that led to losing.”