Wal­la­bies aim­ing for 1st back-to-back Test wins this year

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

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

GALLO IM­AGES

EX­ER­CISE TIME: The Wal­la­bies warm up ahead of their cap­tain’s run at Aviva Sta­dium in Dublin yes­ter­day.

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