The Australian grand slam tour rolls into its fourth week and sees the Wallabies visit Dublin to take on Ireland at the Aviva stadium. Australia will be looking to continue their unbeaten run in this series, following victories against Wales, Scotland and France. Their hosts were unable to secure back to back wins over the All Blacks (no mean feat), but will be looking to consolidate their place in the world’s top 4 ahead of the World cup draw next May. This will be the 33rd meeting between these two sides. Australia lead the head-to-head 21-10, with the one draw coming in 2009, but Ireland won their last meeting in 2014, and of course claimed a famous victory in the group stage of the 2011 World Cup.
There has been much controversy around New Zealand’s supposedly ‘dirty tactics’ last weekend, but wherever your opinion may lie in this matter, the Irish squad has suffered as a result. Robbie Henshaw and Jonny Sexton will be sorely missed against Australia, and the pressure will be on their replacements Garry Ringrose and Paddy Jackson to step up. Keith Earls comes in on the wing with Simon Zebo relegated to the bench, and Iain Henderson slots into the second row. All eyes will be on captain Rory Best, as he earns his 100th cap for Ireland at the weekend. For the Australians, Cheika has made 6 changes. Israel Folau and Michael Hooper return to the squad after being rested against the French, and Stephen Moore will regain the captain’s armband from David Pocock. Dean Mumm starts at flanker, and Quade Cooper and Sean McMahon are among the replacements.
Ireland will need to establish dominance in the scrum- an area that has been of great concern for Australia who have a success rate lower than Tonga and the US in this Autumn period. Tadhg Furlong was excellent against the All Blacks last weekend, and he will surely relish the chance to take on the nervy Australian forwards. Paddy Jackson will need to be accurate in his kicking, as the aerial ability of Rob Kearney and Simon Zebo could prove crucial in launching Irish attacks. Australia will look to retain the running game that has served them so well in recent weeks. Fly-half Bernard Foley will be key as his distribution, goal kicking and ability to run with the ball in hand have been a cornerstone of Australia’s success over the past 3 weeks. Kuridrani has also been a standout performer, and is deadly within the opposition 22. If Ireland do not watch their defence, he could wreak havoc at the Aviva. Israel Folau, will also be keen to counter attack with pace should Ireland send any errant kicks into Australian territory. Finally, Australia should look to continue their impressive counter rucking and will look to David Pocock and Michael Hooper to lead in this regard.
Of all the tests this weekend, this match is the hardest to call. The grand slam remains a tantalising goal for the Australian players, and they would take a huge step towards joining the 1984 grand slam winning team by claiming victory on Saturday. Ireland will represent their biggest challenge to date, and if they can hit the heights of Chicago three weeks ago, they will prove tough competition for the Australian team.