Ireland v Australia: Schmidt seeks to finish on a high

Victory over Wallabies would mean all three heavyweights vanquished within the year

Follow that. As a digestif to a truly memorable month, this is not half-bad: a meeting between the upwardly mobile fourth and third best sides in the world at a capacity Aviva Stadium for a Saturday tea-time kick-off.

Any autumnal window that features an Irish win over New Zealand for the first time cannot be considered a failure, even if the Kiwis gained revenge in last week’s full-on second collision. But while another defeat may not leave the same anti-climactic feeling as Ireland’s failure to complete a series win against the vulnerable Springboks, finishing off the month with successive home defeats would be a tad anti-climactic, not least for this squad.

In contrast, signing off the month and the year with a win over last year’s World Cup finalists and runners-up in this year’s Rugby Championship (first place was simply not up for grabs) would leave the Chicago scalping feeling less like a marvellous one-off and more the continuation of something significant. It would also mean scalping all three of the southern hemisphere heavyweights in the same calendar year, as opposed to losing to all three of them.

The bookies make it a scratch game, although one ventures that the odds will tilt toward Australia if either of Ireland's two overnights doubts, Jared Payne and especially Seán O'Brien after his tour de force last week, were ruled out on top of losing Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw. Interestingly, O'Brien was not included in the team photograph whereas both Payne and Peter O'Mahony took their places.


Of course Ireland have to learn to cope without Sexton, as they did in South Africa. Paddy Jackson needs to reproduce the assurance and direction he brought to that series as opposed to his hurried performance of a week ago.

The loss of a first-choice 10-12 inside the first quarter last week assuredly contributed to Ireland’s failure to convert 66 per cent possession into a try. But it wasn’t as if they didn’t create chances. That run-out, allied to a week’s preparation, should make the Jackson-Garry Ringrose-Payne axis work more smoothly. Nor, you would presume, will Australia be as impenetrable as the back line of a week ago. Then again, you never know.

Slow start

The Wallabies hit Dublin intent on atoning for their slow start here two Novembers ago. They have targeted this penultimate game of their bid for a first “grand slam” since Mark Ella’s 1984 vintage, which did not incorporate a game against France.

Schmidt has particularly noticed their improvement in defence on this tour.

“I think their defensive consistency is better. I think it’s a lot harder to find time and space against them, certainly to find space between players or on the edge of players,” says the Irish coach, who noted that much of the damage which the All Blacks caused them in three meetings this year was off less structured, turnover ball.

“I think they’ve got a real ‘wall’ mentality as far as their defensive line is concerned and I think that’s a lot harder to break down.”

He echoed Simon Easterby’s view that the Wallabies had vastly improved their setpiece ball, “although a lot of their scrums don’t get played off. A lot of them tend to go down or are unsteady. Hopefully, what we’ve seen in the three weeks that we’ve played is that scrums are solid, scrums stay up, stay pretty square and you get results from them.”

‘Chasing shadows’

After last week, there will be apprehension about the presence of Jérôme Garcès, who refereed Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina, but unusually for French referees, he generally interprets the breakdown as well as anyone (where Michael Hooper and David Pocock are a real threat).

Schmidt also referred to Australia's trademark setpiece tries, and with Will Genia and Bernard Foley in prime form at half-back, Reece Hodge has added a new dimension at inside centre while Israel Folau looks, unlike the World Cup, free of injury.

Ireland's defence coach, Andy Farrell, also talked about Australia's "phase play intricacies", but said: "Over the last couple of games what has been right at the front of their game and the reason why I think they're attacking pretty well is that they're very direct and playing very physical.

“They’ve got forwards coming on to the ball and creating quick ball and when you’ve got Foley, Folau and Genia on the back of quick ball then sometimes you’ll be chasing shadows.

“They’re a threat all over the field. The forwards like to play with ball in hand, they’re comfortable with ball in hand, we’re aware of that and we want to put our best defensive performance of the autumn on the pitch. Australia will have something to say about that but it won’t be for lack of trying.”

On the occasion of Rory Best’s 100th cap, which is good timing emotionally for this squad, Ireland’s line-out could hold the key.

The selection of Dean Mumm in the back-row also suggests the Wallabies are going to go after the Irish line-out, a bedrock for much of what Ireland do.

In the circumstances, Australia look more refreshed, more settled and thus better primed. Which means, for this slightly pummelled and disrupted Irish team, this would be one hell of a win.

If they maintain the standards of the last few weeks, and with their array of ball-carriers off the bench, one can see them mounting enough bouts of sustained, accurate pressure to deliver.

IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster), Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster); Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Jack McGrath (St. Mary's College/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt), Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster), Seán O'Brien (UCD/Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster).

Replacements: Sean Cronin (St. Mary's College/Leinster), Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Finlay Bealham (Buccaneers/Connacht), Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht), Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht), Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Leinster), Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster).

AUSTRALIA:Israel Folau (Waratahs); Dane Haylett-Petty (Force), Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies), Reece Hodge (Rebels), Henry Speight (Brumbies); Bernard Foley (Waratahs), Will Genia (Stade Francais); Scott Sio (Brumbies), Stephen Moore (Brumbies) (capt), Sekope Kepu (Waratahs), Rory Arnold (Brumbies), Rob Simmons (Reds), Dean Mumm (Waratahs), Michael Hooper (Waratahs), David Pocock (Brumbies).

Replacements (from): Tolu Latu (Waratahs), James Slipper (Reds), Allan Alaalatoa (Brumbies), Kane Douglas (Reds), Lopeti Timani (Rebels), Sean McMahon (Rebels), Nick Phipps (Waratahs), Quade Cooper (Reds), Sefanaia Naivalu (Rebels).

Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)

Assistant referees: JP Doyle, Craig Maxwell-Keys (both England)

Television match official: Eric Gauzins (France)

Head-to-head: Played 32. Ireland won 10, Australia won 21, drew 1.

Last three meetings: (2011, World Cup) Australia 6 Ireland 15, Eden Park. (2013) Ireland 15 Australia 32, Aviva Stadium. (2014) Ireland 26 Australia 23, Aviva Stadium.

Biggest wins: Ireland 27-12 (1979) and 21-6 (2006). Australia: 46-10 (1999)

Betting (Paddy Power): Evens Ireland, 20/1 Draw, evens Australia.

Forecast: Ireland to win.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times