I only have a few observations to make, and won’t have an after match report this time – I won’t even be able to see this match live. Which is a shame because it will surely be worth watching! I think it will be a great contest, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Australia win by about a try’s worth.
First Update: commiserations for the U21s who lead 17-12 at half-time but were smashed 20-nil in the second half as the French pack apparently dominated them! Since South Africa cleaned up NZ 40-23, South Africa shall be fairly confident of beating France, whom they beat just last Saturday, and thus retaining their title.
In other updated news, if Ireland win, or draw, they will pass Australia in the World Rankings, whilst if Australia win and France lose, we will pass them – the top three will then be NZ, SA and Australia – thought you’d all like to know that.
(Actual preview, not updated, below the fold)
That said, we might also run away with it they must be a lot more tired than us now, and for all the talk about their backs, who are very good indeed, so are ours. The real interest, for my part, will be how Rogers performs against top-drawer opponents. Their centre pairing of D’Arcy (Six Nations player of the tournament 2004) and O’Driscoll (Six Nations player of the tournament 2006) is really something, and with our drift defence Rogers will really be in the thick of it every time. Given that he is backed up on each side and behind by the very strongest of tacklers with years of playing together, I think that we will do all right. But, it is a very big test for our smallest back (besides Gregan, obviously), and in many ways will be an even bigger test for Cameron Shepherd if he replaces him. (Just as an aside, I respect Mark Ella’s opinion a lot but what does Gary Ella mean about D’Arcy’s ‘leg power’? what does he think Mortlock, Gerrard and Tuquiri’s legs are all like? Custard? And D’Arcy is normally going to be tackled by Larkham, who could tackle a train!!)
The forwards will also be a much tougher prospect in defence, tired or not I doubt we’ll drive them backwards as easily as England, and I’m sure that they will hit up a lot around the breakdowns, at least at first. Partly because we have a better backrow (and they a better tight five), so they will prefer to do most of their recycling in the tight, and partly because if they can get over us in tight, they will expect to win. Scrums I pick to be about an even battle, although I will be interested to see (on video, dammit) how Shepherdson goes, and how long before both Baxter and Paul come on. With McIsaac throwing and four jumpers, and them missing their number one jumper, we should be better in the lineouts we have to be, because if we aren’t they will kick to touch all day, and also, if we aren’t, we’ll have to kick long but keep it in, which is always risky.
Which is what I predict them to kick it long and out, us to kick it long and short but mainly in, them to play really hard around the breakdowns for several phases before either a) if they’ve gone forward, spreading it wide, b) if they haven’t, kicking it again. I expect us to hit it up in the centres first, and to try and get some forwards hitting up and offloading off the centres. One thing England did was not go wide once or twice then they could have (although they did at the end of the match to get Varndell’s try), Ireland won’t let us off on any organisational lapses like that.
This match should give us real indication of how much salt to apply to our performances over England I’m hoping not much, and I’m particularly hoping for a big showing from the lineout, but at least we’ll find out what to work on. In all, I think we should be fresher and slightly more effective on the turnovers and the counterattack, so I’ll tip Australia 28 Ireland 16, and allowing for my blatant bias that makes it more like 23-16. But here’s hoping!