Saturday 23 September 2017

We know how to beat this Aussie team – O'Shea

O'Driscoll's winning mentality key against youthful side lacking usual Wallaby swagger, insists Harlequins boss

Jamie Heaslip salutes the Ireland supporters after their 2011 World Cup win over Australia, which Joe Schmidt’s team can draw on this Saturday
Jamie Heaslip salutes the Ireland supporters after their 2011 World Cup win over Australia, which Joe Schmidt’s team can draw on this Saturday
Conor O’Shea believes Ireland can take advantage of Australia’s current lack of confidence
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

CONOR O'SHEA believes that Australia remain vulnerable despite their recent signs of revival under Ewen McKenzie.

The former Ireland full-back has been impressed by the influx of young talent into the Wallabies side under the coach who took over from Robbie Deans during a summer of discontent Down Under.

Though they have won only three of their eight matches since the Lions series victory cost New Zealander Deans his job, putting 50 points on Italy last weekend was a significant boost after losing controversially at Twickenham a week previously. But, despite the changes made and the sense that Australia are coming out the other side of a difficult spell, Harlequins boss O'Shea senses some weakness in this weekend's opposition.

Ireland will need a massive improvement if they are to secure a second November victory, something that would represent a successful overall return for Joe Schmidt ahead of the visit of his native New Zealand next week.

And, while O'Shea maintains that Australia will be favourites, he sees Saturday's Test as a "real opportunity".

"What Australia don't have coming into this game is unbelievable confidence," he said. "What Ireland need to do is make sure that this is a very competitive game. When the crunch comes, how much does this Australia team believe they can win the game?

"Winning is a habit. They will be pretty buoyed by the way they played against Italy; they had a game that could have gone their way against England, but they lost it, and there were moments in that game where they could have seized the initiative but they didn't.

"There is something in that psyche that this Irish team can get stuck into."

Getting off to a winning start with a 40-9 win over Samoa was a good way to get his regime up and running, but Schmidt admitted afterwards that his side would have to be twice as good against Australia this week.

Defence coach Les Kiss has been busy trying to rectify the problems that allowed the islanders to make a series of line breaks – though they didn't manage to turn them into tries.

"I think they need to improve everywhere," O'Shea said. "From a coaching perspective, no matter how much preparation you have, nothing beats the real thing.

"In a lot of ways Ireland were incredibly lucky to have the game that they had. To be playing Samoa as opposed to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa or Argentina straight out of the Rugby Championship and fresh... they played against a side that was thrown together as well.

"It was well pointed out at the weekend that we can't defend in the manner we did, even though we kept Samoa tryless.

"If you give as many opportunities as that to the sort of backline Australia have, if you kick that badly to the back three we're playing, then they'll cause us no end of trouble. We can't give as much opportunity and not expect to be on the receiving end."

If things don't go right and Ireland come up short against the Wallabies, O'Shea does not believe it will be cause panic in the camp.

He is a fully paid-up member of the Joe Schmidt fan-club and believes that, as long as there are signs of progress in the performances, then the series will have been a success for a new coach still feeling out international rugby.

"Joe is going to be successful and people will over-react if we are beaten by Australia and New Zealand," O'Shea said. "I don't think we'll beat New Zealand. It is dependent on what team New Zealand pick. They have some young players on tour and have revenge on their mind at Twickenham, so they might want to give some players experience – but every player who plays New Zealand, the brand and the style of everything they have it is incredible.

"I think there is a real opportunity this weekend to win given the (lack of) confidence in that Australian team, but if they get on the front foot it could be a tough day because they do have some serious rugby players.

"But you think of the World Cup match (in 2011), and we have beaten them at home. We know how to beat this team and they know they'll have to squeeze them up front.

"We have some good players in the backline who will only get better, and a real plus last week was Brian O'Driscoll. To go out into an international having basically hardly played this season, he'll have massively benefited from the game time.

"So, two wins out of three would be unbelievably successful, but if they perform with shape and structure in the next two games we will see some of the elements that Joe Schmidt brings and that's all that really matters.

"For the public, it is two out of three and the second one has to be this week because I can't see it on Sunday week."

Replacing O'Driscoll is likely to be high on Schmidt's agenda as the season progresses, with the legendary centre in his final season.

McKenzie suggested earlier this week that the Ireland coach should be using these internationals to look at alternatives, but O'Shea reckons that the Leinster man is a special case.

"I think it is important to get shape, structure and mentality in the group," he explained. "Joe is a) unbelievably successful as a coach and b) has a plan. He wouldn't sit down with Brian O'Driscoll and convince him to stay for another year without thinking beyond to the World Cup.

"For another coach (McKenzie) to say Ireland need to look to the World Cup, well I think he needs to look after his own issues, which is looking to 2015 – he might be blooding players but where are the front-rows coming (from)?

"You don't see many front-rows coming out of the woodwork in Australia, so I'd say 'look after yourself and Joe will be more than doing what he needs to do for Ireland'."

REFLECTION

The international window has allowed O'Shea some reflection on a mixed early season for his Harlequins side, who have been struggling with a big injury list, even if the unrelenting club fixture-list never stops.

His side reached a potential turning point in their season in defeat to Clermont Auvergne – when they held on for a bonus point away from home – and it reinforced his wish that top-level European rugby is maintained in 2013.

"I just want it sorted," he said of the impasse over the future of European club rugby.

"I just think that anyone who is in clubs, be it a player or a coach, you want to be involved in top-level rugby.

"I don't care how, I just want it sorted. We lost 23-16 down in Clermont, it was a great game of rugby and the energy from it gave our group – from playing in that environment and playing your way through the pain barrier in trying to stay with a team that good – unbelievable belief. You can't substitute that.

"That's what top European rugby does. They are the days you want to be involved in."

* Conor O'Shea has announced that the Guinness Plus App is giving rugby fans the opportunity to present the man of the match award at next week's Guinness Series International against world champions New Zealand. For a chance to win, just download the Guinness Plus App – available from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store – and 'check-in' at a participating pub before 11.59pm this Saturday.

Irish Independent

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