Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Ireland make four changes vs Australia - will it be enough?
While Ireland produced a creativity-free performance to struggle past the USA 22-10, Australia sparkled in the second half against Italy and, Wales apart, look the most impressive side so far at the World Cup after the first round of matches. So is Ireland's task impossible?
Declan Kidney has one selection dilemma solved, at least: Jerry Flannery's calf gave way in training and his Cup is over. There are four changes to the starting XV, with Healy, O'Brien, Reddan and Kearney replacing Court, Jennings, Murray and Murphy.
All those changes make sense. Healy is the best of a weak forward line, although the Irish scrum looked sturdy against the USA while the Australian forwards were minced by Italy. Kidney's men could dominate in the scrum while there's be some furious battles at the breakdown. Shane Jennings was ineffective against the USA so O'Brien's return is welcome. Conor Murray did nothing wrong on his World Cup debut, it would be cruel to ask him to start against the Wallabies. Eoin Reddan, whilst hardly world class, is the safest bet.
Rob Kearney has never hit the heights of his Six Nations exploits a couple of years ago but he remains one of the most exciting Irish backs and rock solid under the high ball, attacking from deep. If he can keep a cool kicking head, he's the right choice. On the other hand, while Keith Earls had a quiet match against the USA, I'm still glad he's been preferred to Andrew Trimble.
If the Australian backs get into their stride, then they'll be unstoppable. Much depends on the Irish back row dominating David Pocock; if Heaslip and O'Brien can make more progress with ball in hand and at the breakdown than Pocock, and force the penalties, and if Sexton can do a better job at kicking them than he did against the Americans...
There are a lot of ifs, actually. Sexton will need to kick well, because the Wallabies will definitely score tries. Digby Ioane is injured but Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale lived up to the hype against Italy and it'll be impossible to keep them out for 80 minutes. Ireland wil need to hope that they completely dominate the scrum, hold their own in the lineout and the breakdown, and that O'Driscoll, Kearney and Bowe are at their very best. There are still obvious weaknesses in the Irish XV (the whole front row, O'Callaghan and D'Arcy are glaring soft spots) but it's still a decent side if they can get fired up and play to their best. Which, unfortunately, they haven't done for months.