Kidney hopes rest on packing a punch
IT has been said all week in the build-up to today's clash between Australia and Ireland at the Suncorp Stadium, but still demands repeating -- England did not do the Irish any favours by beating the Wallabies in Sydney last weekend.
Defeat to the English strikes at the heart of Australian sporting pride and that result appears to have brought things to a head for Robbie Deans' Wallabies.
The New Zealander has been two years at the helm -- his first game in charge was against Ireland in 2008 -- and he has used that time to build a squad for next year's World Cup. To that end, he has been relatively successful and the Wallabies have unearthed some exciting young talent for New Zealand 2011, with Will Genia, Quade Cooper, James O'Connor and David Pocock the stand-out products of that development policy.
However, the loss to England appears to have marked an end to Deans' period of grace and the fact he is a Kiwi has given extra bite to the criticism aimed in his direction this week.
Australia have not captured the World Cup since 1999, have not won the Tri Nations since 2001 and have not claimed the Bledisloe Cup in their annual jousts with the All Blacks since 2002.
Like a goat tethered to the stake, Declan Kidney's side are the designated offering to appease the circling wolves and what was already a difficult assignment at the end of a draining season became a truly daunting one when Matt Giteau missed those kicks last weekend.
Second-row Dean Mumm voiced the frustration of the Australia squad this week and believes that he and his team-mates need to rediscover their pride today.
"We're frustrated that it takes a loss of last weekend's proportion, or Scotland on the last tour, to get us back to performing. We shouldn't need that," said Mumm.
"We should have enough self-belief and pride in what we do to not need low points to then realise what we are trying to achieve. Playing for our country should be enough to do that."
For all their fighting talk and the undoubted ability in their ranks, there are areas for the Irish to exploit. The Wallabies' front five is considerably weakened by injury and although their scrum improved last weekend, after being destroyed the week previously, the Irish (who have scrummaged well on this tour) should be able to hold their own and even exert some pressure.
A solid platform will allow debutant Chris Henry to do some damage off the base and the Ulsterman and his back-row colleagues Shane Jennings and Niall Ronan are central to Irish aspirations. It is an extremely mobile unit -- two specialist open-sides and a No 8 who has extensive experience of the No 7 jersey -- and one that is well-equipped to play the fast and loose game plan the Irish are likely to employ.
However, the back row is probably the area where the Wallabies are strongest, with Rocky Elsom, Pocock and Richard Brown making up an extremely balanced and clearly defined unit. Elsom and Brown are powerful ball-carriers who will need to be mown down at source, as the English showed last week, for they have the ability to create the momentum to unleash a fleet-footed backline.
That back row also provides the home side with an edge at lineout time. Elsom is 6'5" and a go-to option at the back of the line-out and, with the Irish back row all around the 6'2" mark, the athletic Ronan is Ireland's best option for long throws when Elsom will be prowling.
It puts extra pressure on second-rows Donncha O'Callaghan and Mick O'Driscoll to provide good aerial possession, not to mention hooker Sean Cronin, who will be looking to build on a decent showing in difficult circumstances against the All Blacks.
Save for O'Callaghan, this is an internationally inexperienced pack and this contest will come down to how they cope with what is certain to be a ferocious Aussie onslaught from a set of forwards who were essentially bullied about by the bigger English over two Tests.
In the back line, Ireland have a more established look. Tomas O'Leary is due a big game at scrum-half after struggling behind a depleted pack two weekends ago, while out-half Jonathan Sexton goes into the match high on confidence after his superb display against the Maori.
Paddy Wallace excelled that evening also, and provides a useful playmaking option outside Sexton. Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble are in fine form on the wings and will relish the opportunity to show their pace as they look certain to receive plenty of ball to run on to.
At full-back, Rob Kearney will look to re-establish his credentials as one of the world's best No 15s and watching a video of his performance in the Melbourne Test two years ago would be good way to boost confidence after a difficult evening in New Plymouth.
And then there is Brian O'Driscoll. Ireland's captain is desperate to end the season on a high note, which is good news from an Irish viewpoint and a source of concern for the Australians and their inexperienced outside-centre Rob Horne.
It adds up to Ireland having a decent shot, but if they are to achieve the result they crave, there needs to be a return to the defensive solidity that underscored all of their achievements last year.
Les Kiss has been a notable success as defence coach and the Australian has been upset by the concession of 12 tries in the past two games -- irrespective of the card caveats against the All Blacks.
This is Kidney's last chance to register a win in the southern hemisphere, a first for 31 years, before the World Cup, but the Ireland coach was not getting hung up on that fact yesterday.
"This is where you have to leave statistics to one side," said Kidney. "It's going to happen. It's gone on longer (than it should), but it's not totally different to when the provinces started off in the Heineken Cup and going to the south of France, when you were lucky to come away with less than a 30-point loss. That sort of happened us against New Zealand.
"Some time we're going to get it right; we just need to come down here preparing and knowing that we can win.
"We've been together a few weeks, we've had a little bit more time to prepare and that's why we're looking forward to it."
If Ireland can get off to a good start for the first time on tour, match the Australians up front and continue to show the attacking verve they produced against the Maori and in the second half against New Zealand, then an unlikely victory is possible.
However, given the circumstances, a good performance that runs the Wallabies close would be an achievement in itself.
Australia v Ireland
Live, Sky Sports 1, 11.0