Ireland v Australia
Aviva Stadium, Dublin – Saturday 5.45pm
Australia will take the field at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday full of brio after putting Italy to the sword in Turin. With Quade Cooper pulling the strings the Australians ran in seven tries, with coach Ewen McKenzie still complaining about his team receiving harsh treatment by referees.
Ireland showed themselves to be rusty last weekend against a Samoan side who themselves played poorly. It was not an exciting game. The watching crowd were bored from the early stages, not least because of the sheer number of scrums arising from various mistakes by both sides. According to Opta there were 23 scrums in the game, 13 of which came in just the first half. Compare that number to the number of scrums in the other Tests so far this Autumn:
England and Argentina wasn’t the greatest contest ever witnessed but, on the positive side, when compared to the event at in Dublin, it involved about 15 fewer minutes watching two groups of men have a pushing contest while everybody else stood around doing very little.
With Paul O’Connell, Devin Toner, Peter O’Mahony and Jamie Heaslip in the side to face Australia, Ireland have an embarrassment of lineout targets and will look for complete dominance on their own throw. O’Connell’s ability to disrupt opposition ball is approaching legendary status – he’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t come out of the game having made Wallaby hooker Stephen Moore’s life generally miserable.
Apart from sloppy mistakes with ball in hand Ireland were also profligate with the boot, kicking wastefully. Much of the match was spent between the half way line and the Irish 22, with Ireland having to make 156 tackles to 92. The Samoans created a number of line breaks but, perhaps from lack of time in camp together, suffered consistently from not having a support runner in a decent position. This will not be the case with Australia.
The Fol’ Monty
Australia’s backs scored six of the team’s seven tries last weekend against Italy with Israel Folau showing off every bit of his freakish athletic ability. Playing at full back allows him to come into the line in more unexpected places than from the wing, where he was named during the Lions tour.
Fergus McFadden might do well to keep an eye on where the former rugby league and AFL player is standing when defending near the Irish tryline, because Folau is an aerial weapon. While both Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe are superb in the air in their own right, Folau is taller than both with a considerable weight advantage. His technique when going for a cross kick is excellent, getting huge height and using his knees to make himself a very difficult target to defend. McFadden is a warrior but is far from the tallest man on the planet – expect Folau to end up on McFadden’s wing at some point and Quade Cooper to send a raking cross kick his way.
In the last ten years Ireland and Australia have played eight tests, with Ireland winning two, Australia five and sharing a sister-kissing draw. It’s been relatively tight, with a points difference over the right games of just 28 in Australia’s favour. In those eight games both teams have landed exactly 20 penalty goals each and converted exactly the same proportion of conversions. The big difference has been Australia’s ability to get across the tryline, scoring 15 tries to Ireland’s 10. While Jonathan Sexton is a more consistent kicker than Cooper, the Australians might well have the try-scoring edge again.
If Brian O’Driscoll scores a try, We’ll refund all losing try scorer bets on the match!
England v New Zealand
Twickenham, Saturday 2.30pm
England welcome New Zealand to England at Twickenham as they would anyone who is fresh from their fourth consecutive defeat of the French. Last week’s 26-17 test at the Stade de France was a belter of a game with All Blacks having to defend heroically to stop a superb French comeback achieving a draw. Julian Savea comes back into the side on the wing in place of Cory Jane, which only serves to make them all the stronger.
The All Blacks have based their 2013 game plan around a kicking game, happy to cede possession provided that it is done so on their own terms. Even in beating Japan 54-6 in Tokyo they put boot to ball almost twice as often as the Cherry Blossoms.
In the club game this tactic has been used by Saracens and Toulon in recent seasons to reasonably good if unexciting effect, relying on well positioned kicks and a well organised kick chase to create pressure on their opponents in dangerous areas of the pitch. Possession is sacrificed for potential opportunities from turnovers, and the key is then to be absolutely ruthless with those opportunities. There is no team in the world that is more efficient than New Zealand in this regard.
A worrying Black spot for England
England were hugely disappointing in the second half last week, allowing a poor Argentinian side to get back into the game after being blown away in the first 40. Such laxity will not have pleased coach Stuart Lancaster, especially when any spells like that are likely to be punished in ruthless fashion by an outstanding All Blacks side. England, who last week covered their 14 point handicap against Argentina with Ben Morgan’s late try, are themselves handed 14 points against New Zealand and it’s a very fair spread.