Wallabies aiming for 1st back-to-back Test wins this year
AUSTRALIA will be looking to confirm the impression that they are making their way back to the top table of rugby union with victory over Ireland at Lansdowne Road today.
Even though Ewen McKenzie only replaced Robbie Deans as Wallabies coach after the series loss to the British and Irish Lions in July, he has already had a mauling in the press following a disappointing Rugby Championship campaign.
However, that could change were the Australians to beat the Irish and post their first back-to-back wins of the year, having hammered Italy 50-20 last Saturday.
It will also be a measure of revenge for the surprise 15-6 pool stage defeat in the 2011 World Cup.
“We’ll be looking forward to the challenge and also to the opportunity of building some momentum by winning backto-back games for the first time this year,” said McKenzie.
The match also has a fascinating backdrop as McKenzie was in the frame for the Ireland job when Declan Kidney was sacked after a disappointing Six Nations only for Kiwi Joe Schmidt to get the post on the back of a hugely successful spell as Leinster coach which included two European Cups.
Ireland should provide stiffer opposition than the Italians – Schmidt has recalled several of the Lions players to the starting line-up following the 40-9 thrashing of Samoa last Saturday – and McKenzie is expecting the Irish to make the breakdown a key battlefield.
He is especially keen for the Wallaby forwards to gain the upper hand there so they can give as much possession as possible to a backline that has been largely responsible for a haul of 18 tries in their last four Tests.
“It’s pleasing that we are beginning to build strong combinations and partnerships in our backs, including those players on the bench and on the fringes, and we’re expecting the more time they spend together the better they will be,” said McKenzie, whose side are seeking their first win in Dublin since 2005.
“They’ve been able to find the tryline quite a bit over the past month and you can sense they are feeling more comfortable and confident in each other and how we want to play the game.
“Still, we’re under no illusions that these games are won up front, and we’ll continue to have high expectations that our forwards will provide us with a strong platform from which to play from,” added the 48- year- old former Wallaby prop, who was a member of the 1991 World Cup winning side.
Schmidt is confident the changes he has made to his starting line-up – bringing back players of the stature of flyhalf Johnny Sexton and lock Paul O’Connell – have given them the quality they require to beat the Australians.
“It’s a really good team and will help us put our best foot forward,” he said.
“We will need to be on our guard as Australia are on an upward curve. If you do let them (the backs) loose then they will do us damage.
“They are one of the world powers in rugby and will be really tough to beat.”
While Schmidt does sense Australia are on the way back, he also is an experienced enough hand to know that turning the pressure on them today could reap dividends.
“There are always opportunities there to expose their vulnerability,” he said.
“Doubt can seep in if you come under pressure but I repeat, we mustn’t let them spread the ball because their attacking prowess is pretty visible.”
O, Connell, who has been handed the captaincy by Schmidt, will not only be making his first start for Ireland – he came on as a replacement against Samoa – since March last year but also in the same starting XV as fellow Irish great Brian O’Driscoll for the first time since the 2011 World Cup quarter- final against Wales.
“It’s great to be back. The squad has changed dramatically in the time I have been away but there is more depth to it and hopefully this will translate into a win over the Wallabies,” said the 34-year-old. – Sapa-AFP
EXERCISE TIME: The Wallabies warm up ahead of their captain’s run at Aviva Stadium in Dublin yesterday.