Joe Schmidt and Michael Cheika set to show strongest hands
CJ Stander and Kearney winning fitness battle after suffering head knocks last week
CJ Stander with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The Irish and Australian teams are both expected to be along the lines established in this decidedly wintery autumnal window. Presuming CJ Stander and Rob Kearney are declared fit after completing their return-to-play protocols, Joe Schmidt is expected to retain all but two of last week’s starting XV, with injury ruling out Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw.
Stander and Kearney will have fitness tests this morning.
That Peter O’Mahony has been re-routed to Munster for their game against Treviso on Saturday strongly indicates that Stander will be fit to play, and the vibes concerning Kearney appeared to be equally positive during the week.
However, where he to be ruled out, the likelier option would be that Jared Payne will revert to fullback, where he performed so well in the first Two tests in South Africa, as opposed to Simon Zebo returning to the position he also occupied with distinction seven times last season.
But should Kearney be passed fit, he will assuredly play, with Payne most probably completing an Ulster triumvirate at 10-12-13.
The odds are, perhaps, that Olding has jumped ahead of Marshall, having missed the initial squad selection through injury. That Olding and Rory Scannell were both added to the squad earlier this week looks significant, after Henshaw was knocked out by Sam Cane’s high hit in last Saturday’s bruising encounter with the All Blacks.
It suggests the option of partnering Garry Ringrose with Jared Payne in the makeshift midfield that was employed following Henshaw’s 11th minute departure last Saturday will not be the one that’s chosen. Well though Ringrose played on an individual basis, making 18 carries and 10 tackles, understandably the Irish attack lost its shape after also losing Sexton in the 17th minute.
The odds are, also, that Andrew Trimble and Zebo will be retained on the wings, even though Keith Earls is pushing hard for inclusion after his all-action performance against Canada, having missed the Chicago game through suspension.
Earls has not, seemingly, been released back to Munster, but then again either he or Zebo would make for an ideal 24th man given their versatility. Zebo, to his credit, took his chance in Chicago superbly with arguably his best display for Ireland, and as in that game put in another superb kick along the left wing last Saturday, amongst other things.
Presuming Stander is good to go, the starting pack last week could well be retained en bloc, despite their huge efforts against New Zealand. Seán O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip had savage workloads but they are resilient characters, especially the remarkable Heaslip.
The scrums and lineouts have gone well, suggesting the tight five will also be retained, with Rory Best to lead the side out on the occasion of his 100th cap.
This would still leave Joe Schmidt and co with at least one difficult choice, namely the secondrow cover on the bench, now that Ultan Dillane is fit again.
Iain Henderson is the man in situ, and he can also cover the backrow, but while neither has been tearing up trees yet for their provinces this season, Dillane’s impact off the bench in the last quarter in Chicago and his man-of-the-match performance against Canada have been of a higher standard in this November window.
Joey Carbery will presumably return to the bench for a third time this month, with Kieran Marmion and Ringrose retained.
Similarly, Schmidt’s predecessor as Leinster coach, Michael Cheika, is expected to revert to the vast bulk of the team which started the 32-8 and 23-22 wins over Wales and Scotland. In a clear signal that he and the Wallabies think tank have targeted this penultimate leg of a potentially historic grand slam tour, Australia made 10 changes in personnel and one positional switch for last week’s 25-23 win over France in Paris.
Hence it is expected that Israel Folau, winger Dane Haylett-Petty, inside centre Reece Hodge, frontrow Scott Sio, Stephen Moore and Sekope Kepu, lock Rory Arnold, flanker Michael Hooper and Lopeti Timani will all be restored.
Only Moore and Sio were on the bench last week, while Scott Fardy’s selection in the team to play the French Barbarians in Bordeaux last night would suggest that Dean Mumm will be picked on the bench.
There would have been an 11th change in personnel had Quade Cooper not been ruled out in Paris, resulting in Michael Foley – their match-winner last week – starting his fourth successive game at outhalf.
The in-form Will Genia, centre Tevita Kuridrani and winger Henry Speight are all expected to play again, as is David Pocock, who may revert to blindside flanker having started at number eight last Saturday.
Cheika will unveil his hand at around 12.45pm, with Schmidt to follow an hour later.
IRELAND (possible): Kearney or Payne; Trimble, Payne or Ringrose, Olding, Zebo; Jackson, Murray; McGrath, Best (capt), Furlong, Ryan, Toner, Stander, O’Brien, Heaslip. Replacements: Cronin, Healy, Bealham, Dillane, van der Flier, Marmion, Carbery, Ringrose.
AUSTRALIA (possible): Folau; Haylett-Petty, Kuridrani, Hodge, Speight; Foley, Genia; Sio, Moore, Kepu, Arnold, Simmons, Pocock, Hooper, Timani. Replacements: Latu, Slipper, Alaalatoa, Douglas, Mumm, Phipps, Cooper, Naivalu.