O'Gara confident of causing upset against Australia
EARLY-MORNING starts for Tri-Nations games are usually for rugby die-hards and exiled Antipodeans, but this year's tournament is required viewing for Irish fans looking to assess their World Cup chances.
Pool rivals Australia kick off their campaign this morning against the world champions South Africa with the usual question marks hanging over them.
Ronan O'Gara has gone on record with his belief that the Wallabies can be beaten and, having done so on Irish soil before and gone close in the World Cup twice, the Corkman reckons victory is more than achievable when the sides meet at Eden Park on September 17.
"It is all well and good talking about New Zealand and stuff but we are yet to beat them, so we can't talking purposefully about that, it is something none of the current squad have done. But Australia, yeah, I think there is an opportunity there," O'Gara said.
The Queensland Reds' Super Rugby victory in front of a rare full house in Brisbane saw rugby union Down Under get a major boost at an important time, only for Samoa to arrive in town and beat a mish-mash Wallabies team that still featured Stephen Moore, Rocky Elsom and Matt Giteau.
Samoa are an improving force and their pool rivals will be wary, but Robbie Deans' men have come under continuous fire this week from former players who can't countenance defeat against a nation they view as a minnow.
Deans' contract extension is still in the pipeline, but a poor start against the Springboks could wipe away the feel-good factor that was generated by the Reds' securing a first Super Rugby title for an Australian team since 2004 a fortnight ago.
The New Zealand-born coach has certainly improved the situation in Australia, who appeared to be a declining force when they were bullied off the park by England in Marseille four years ago.
The scrum has been strengthened without being impenetrable, while the likes of James O'Connor, Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale have injected a free-running game that ranks up there with any team at this year's World Cup.
The back-row of Elsom, David Pocock and Ben McCalman tick all the boxes, while Will Genia provides a spark from scrum-half. Yet it's the tight five that will give Deans sleepless nights and Paul O'Connell and co plenty to ponder.
Against South Africa, the Wallabies will face the most northern hemisphere-style team of any of the big three, but in giving props Dean Greyling and Werner Kruger their Test debuts, and resting Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, Peter de Villiers could neutralise his own advantage.
Declan Kidney et al will be tuning in with pens and notepads at the ready. If Australia are to be gotten at, John Smit and the 'Boks are best placed to exploit their weaknesses.
The prevailing impression is that Australia are impressive in possession but not strong without it and no one sums it up more than Cooper, who is battling against an illness to be fit for today's opening encounter.
At times imperious with the ball, he is suspect without it and Ireland are already aware of his foibles.
"I think he mixes from the superlative to the very, very ordinary," said opposite number O'Gara. "He is dangerous, but I think sometimes these fellas can be got at too. He'll be a key player for them and his footwork looks incredible but I think there will be opportunities for our team when we play against them as well."
Eoin Reddan has been watching the action from Down Under and while he is more complimentary than his squad mate, he reckons Ireland can cause problems.
"Cooper is playing excellently," he said. "They seem to be really enjoying their rugby and seem to have a good togetherness in their squad. They have a lot of players who are going to be hard to stop.
"Their scrum is holding up well as well which traditionally would have been an issue but clearly it isn't at the moment so, yeah, we'll have our work cut out. Obviously we're pretty confident that, if we do our work properly, we'll give them a few things to worry about."
Australia v South Africa,
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