Ireland v Australia, Dublin, 18 November 2006

also featuring:
Ireland A v Australia A, Limerick, 15 November 2006
cross-posted for the first time to sidelined.

Australia A v Ireland, 15 November 2006

Australia A play the Ireland A tonight, which might not seem like big news but in the greater scheme of things will be a pretty big match. Of course there is the small issue of having been embarrassed by a club team two weeks ago! More importantly however is that this represents a late and perhaps last chance for a couple of players to really push themselves up the selection list, notably Matt Rogers, Drew Mitchell, George Smith, Mark Gerrard, et al.

backs
halves
I think that Giteau’s versatility, and obvious talent, make him almost a shoe-in for reserve half in the World Cup team. But I do not think anyone will be replacing Gregan, and the Italy game showed why there is probably not a better half in the world behind a disintegrating scrum! Sheehan gets the chance he deserves tonight, but I would be very surprised if he takes it, and ditto for Josh Valentine, although I would like to see Valentine on the bench again against Ireland.
 

Matt Rogers
Personally, I regret Roger’s receiving the ‘blame’ for the dismal performance against Italy. Although conventional logic does support blaming the (relatively) experimental five-eighth for an embarrassingly disorganised performance, that same logic also suggests at least two points in Rogers’ favour:

  • Experimental players need a real chance at their experimental positions if it is to be worth experimenting in the first place
  • When the whole game is a complete shambles, the most experienced players deserve the lion’s share of the blame, not the least

So I would back Rogers to play on Saturday. If he is to be prima facie dropped, however, then I do certainly applaud his being given given a slot in the A’s to ‘prove’ himself. After all, one of the things that condemned Jones was that he didn’t stick with experimental combinations long enough to let them work. As I acknowledged in my last post, the rugby public who so blamed Jones for not experimenting has to give Connolly the leeway to do so.
 

first and second five-eighths
On that note, I am also glad that Gerrard is getting a second run at five-eighth for the As if he stars, he should start against Ireland, and if Rogers stars but Gerrard is convincing, Rogers should start and Gerrard should get on the bench. Larkham can stay at second five-eighth, and Tuquiri start at outside centre before giving way to Mortlock. even if Rogers also starts and Tuquiri is selected on the bench. As important as winning is, this is about our last throw of the dice before the World Cup squad needs to be finalised, and I think every one of those players has a case to make for their involvement, or if you prefer, for fitting themselves in around Larkham.
Gerrard will definitely benefit from having Scott Staniforth inside him I am not sure why he was put on the wing (in the last three matches!) for the As when I would have thought there was no chance of his playing there at test level. The Brumbies had just better hope that Gerrard isn’t playing next to his future teammate!
It is also interesting to see Morgan Turinui’s return to the fray I have never been so nonplussed as by all the hype about him this time last year, and frankly I was glad he was dropped. But that said, we have struggled at inside centre since, which almost makes one wonder why he is at outside centre especially since I can’t for the life of me see how he is to replace either Mortlock or Tuquiri, and in a few year’s time there will be very strong competition from Lloyd Johansson. Hopefully, he’ll get to move in to inside in the second half.
 

outer backs
I am also delighted to see Drew Mitchell back in the frame, because just yesterday I was reminiscing back to his first try against the All Blacks, and thinking that he really needed to be given a(nother) shot at the test side. Australia has any number of ‘test-level’ wingers in my opinion, including the current ‘incumbents’ Tuquiri and Rathbone, as well as Gerrard and, perhaps not now but soon, Digby Ioane. Cameron Shepherd is at the least very close, but I personally think that he is not as powerful as Tuquiri, Rathbone, Ioane or Gerrard, which will cost him in Connolly’s mind, and perhaps better as an outside centre or, in a few years time, full-back. In fact he is my current pick to replace Latham, for what such early picks are worth, and play alongside Western Force team-mate Ioane in the Wallabies 2011 World Cup team.
Also, I think Tuquiri and Gerrard are perhaps more suited to outside centre and five-eighth respectively, and neither is quite as quick as Mitchell. Quickness, of course, is Mitchell’s strength. If any three factors will determine the winner this Saturday, and in France next year, they will be the defence, the ability of the forwards to control the ball (of which more later) and the ability of the backs (and forwards, these days) to get it wide to effective runners. That is why I think Larkham at inside centre/second five-eighth is an excellent idea, and why I hope Mitchell gets another run for the Wallabies.
 

forwards
This is getting to be a hard subject, at least when writing about Australia. One could heap praise on the Italian scrum, or laud the Argentineans’ all-round efforts and line-out, or admire the Irish efficacy and ability to dominate a powerful pack, or obviously one could speak of the All Blacks. But what is one to make of Australia?
 

Should one praise a line-out that has risen to perhaps the best in the world? They have had the practice, since we have more defensive line-outs than any other team probably a tribute to our defence. What about the breakdown, where we have made considerable progress at securing our ball with the least personnel possible, and general play, where we have learnt to get involved and offload (albeit this last hasn’t been such a big feature of the last three or four games)?
 

Alas, all that, and there is much to be positive about, is obscured by the obvious, blinding, glaring, defect. We seem to be going backwards, in every sense, at a rate of knots. We despaired as we were routed by England this time last year, but what to make of our performance against Italy? Even if they were the best scrum in Europe that would not, could not, excuse our performance against them. What excuses where there?
 

hooker
Everything thus far suggests that for all the hype around McIsaac earlier this year, and I was as willing as anyone else to think that he might be the ‘man’, was exaggerated. He may well go on to greatness, but for my money not yet. He will certainly have a ‘real’ hit-out against Ireland now, though, and if he can hold his own against them he will hold his own against anyone.   I suspect that the real interest for the future lies in seeing what Polota-Nau is capable of but the real interest for now is seeing a) whether he or Moore starts, and b) whether either manages to get on top of what will be a very competitive Irish A front-row. If either shows any inclination to get on top, then they should definitely be given at least 20 minutes if not half an hour on Saturday. Doubly so because I suspect that our 2007 hopes lie (still) with Paul’s fitness, and our 2011 hopes lie with P-N and not McIsaac. Of course, I would be thrilled to be proved wrong!
 

props
Baxter might be thought to have been at fault against Italy, but in truth I think he was as much faulted against as faulted. Three things, in particular, suggest this. First, when the referee was over on their side of the scrum, Baxter did much better suggesting that the Italian was not doing something in front of the ref that he was doing when he was less supervised. Secondly, the referee spoke to both of them equally about staying up and binding. Thirdly, it looked like he was coming in off-center to me, 16000 kilometres away on a fuzzy screen.
Of course, being faulted against is part and parcel of a prop’s game! No-one ever heard Os du Randt complain that the other guy wasn’t coming in straight (nor does Baxter, to his credit), nor did anyone see the other guy keep doing it for long whereas against the Australian props they keep on doing it. So, good to see him keeping his place, and good to see them sticking with Shepherdson, who I thought did alright in the circumstances.
For Australia A, Benn Robinson gets a hit-out, which will also be good to see. I thought both he and Shepherdson deserved a shot much earlier than this tour, given that none of Blake, Baxter or Holmes dominated anyone in the Tri-Nations.
At the end of the day, I really don’t envy Connolly making the final call on who to pick for the front-row for the World Cup.
 

second row
Obviously losing Vickerman is a huge blow. If ever he isn’t fit for the World Cup we will really be sorry so here’s hoping that the enforced lay-off turns out to be both a positive and shorter than expected! Interestingly, against Ireland A James Horwill and Al Campbell are playing with Mitchell Chapman on the bench. All of these players are real contenders for 2011 and I for one would really love at least one of them to get up in Vickerman’s absence and stake their own claim I think Sharpe in particular would benefit from some real pressure on his place.
 

back row
Although I am still not a hundred percent convinced, Palu seems to have convinced his team-mates and coach will obviously counts for a lot J. Elsom seems to be the real deal, and Waugh certainly does not look like wanting to relinquish his spot. But I would like to see Smith at least on the bench, however, this is only possible if we select a second-row reserve who can double up at blindside, such as McMeniman.
Which leaves Hoiles, in particular, and to a lesser extent Lyons, really good chances to get a toehold on the Wallaby bench if they can star tonight best of luck to them!
 

in all
I have no idea whether we will win against Ireland A really since I don’t know the other team at all, but I will tip that they will rebound enormously and I expect a very entertaining match of football. It will probably turn on, as much as anything else, whether we can hold the scrums and they can hold the tackles.
As for the main game, I don’t know again! Theoretically, we should lose, but I think (hope) we have what it takes defensively to gain the edge that and our running power are our only real advantages against a very classy Irish team. I think we can’t be as bad as were against Italy and, in particular, we are about set to ‘click’ if we keep Rogers and Larkham together, and really we were very close to tearing Wales apart with Larkham’s deep long passing from inside centre. We won’t tear Ireland apart at all, but I do think we will break their line more often and capitalise better when we do. So I will predict Australia to win 28 18.

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3 Responses to Ireland v Australia, Dublin, 18 November 2006

  1. Patrick says:

    Well, it looks like they are taking the boring (and bad, in my opinion) option of restoring Larkham to five-eighth. Now besides all else, given that Gerrard had a good game there (setting up two tries) for the A’s, would it not make more sense to play him there if Rogers must be dropped? Especially if one is moving Larkham out of inside centre because he isn’t comfortable there just to replace him with Mortlock who cannot remember the last time he played there! Not to mention rewarding Gerrard for a great game at five-eighth including setting up two tries as a five-eighth by giving him a spot on the wing!

    I think the reasoning is completely unsupportable, on any grounds other than that they have their hearts fixed on trying Mortlock and Tuquiri together so they are going ahead with that come hell or high water and logic be damned. I just hope they still win.

    Fwiw, the As had a great scrumming performance which moves Stephen Moore right up the pecking order, and apparently Polota-Nau as well. Frankly I would have liked to see at least one of them make the bench now, and perhaps they will, but only if Cannon withdraws. Indeed pretty much the whole team seems to have distinguished themselves, suggesting either that the opposition was weak or that they really wanted to get selected.

  2. Ken Parish says:

    Patrick

    I don’t know what the answer to the Wallabies’ 5/8 dilemma is. I’m certainly not convinced that Larkham is past it in that position (which seems to be the subtext of your musing), although obviously we need another top class 5/8 to give him a spell occasionally and in case his ageing body gives up the ghost before the World Cup. But one thing I do know, having watched him in both codes for the last decade, is that Mat Rogers is NOT a 5/8.

    Maybe Gerrard is an option as you say, maybe Giteau, maybe even Berrick Barnes, although throwing a youngster into the test wringer with so little time before the World Cup would certainly smack of desperation. Then again, we ARE desperate, though more about the front row than the inside backs. I watched the highlights of the Italy match yesterday. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the entire match replay if they were the best bits.

  3. Patrick says:

    I think Barnes is really out of the frame – I actually doubt that anyone with less than 2 or 3 years of professional muscular development could survive five-eighth today – consider Larkham’s fate against England in the last final.

    But I certainly don’t think that Larkham is past anything, although it might well be better not to ask him to play more than half the world cup. What I do think is that the experiment with him at inside centre is worth sticking with, and that putting him back to five-eighth just so they can field a wholly untried centres combination including Morlock at inside where he never plays is thoroughly illogical. Especially when the option is to put someone who just had a great game at five-eighth at five-eighth (Gerrard), someone who is a great footballer and has shown promise (Larkham’s first 25 minutes against Wales were inspiring, and then he went off) at inside, and arguably the world’s best outside centre at outside (Mortlock)!

    Then, if you have to play Tuquiri, leave him on the wing that Gerrard (who hasn’t played or trained there in weeks) is getting and rely on the fact that with Larkham’s passing from inside and Gerrard’s kicking from five-eighth Tuquiri will be getting more action on the wing than Mortlock at outside centre.

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