Autumn Nations Series preview: Ireland to end year on a high against Wallabies

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

Ireland will look to end an impressive year on a positive note when they face the Wallabies in their final Autumn Nations Series clash on Saturday.

While it is the home side’s last outing of 2022, Australia still have one more match to go after this weekend as they take on Wales in Cardiff on November 26.

However, all of the Wallabies‘ focus will be on the here and now as they look to bounce back from defeat to Italy and show they’re a team to be reckoned with.

That remains to be seen as Dave Rennie’s men have blown hot and cold of late and it’s apparent they are not yet considered as serious 2023 World Cup contenders. Victory over Ireland on their home patch would certainly go a long way to alter that thinking, but that is a difficult proposition because of several factors.

The absence of Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Rory Arnold et al have left them short this autumn, while they face an Irish outfit building nicely towards their strongest challenge to date for World Cup glory. Bar missing out on the Six Nations to a superb France side, Ireland‘s year has been excellent.

Two of their star players, Johnny Sexton and Josh van der Flier, were this week nominated for the World Rugby Player of the Year award, which is a feather in the cap for the whole team, and in truth many others could have been in the mix, with this an impressive group who should have too much for the Wallabies.

Where the game will be won

Ireland’s power game in close quarters that is not just mindless carries but intelligent running lines will once again be vital this week as the balance between brute force, angles and metres after contact is likely to cause the Wallabies problems. There are threats in all areas of this pack as the visitors are set to discover.

Territory and game management will of course also play a major part of the game at the Aviva Stadium and in Jamison Gibson-Park, Sexton, Nic White and Bernard Foley we have four of the best in the business who have rugby IQ aplenty. Gibson-Park offers intelligence and tempo and rarely makes a wrong decision, while opposing scrum-half White is equally smart, with this quartet’s kicking games and timing of when to unleash their backline set to have a say in where this result ends up.

Last time they met

What they said

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is expecting a backlash from a wounded Wallabies side intent on taking the scalp of the world’s top-ranked team this weekend.

“They have a couple of things to hang their hats on in regards to motivation,” he said.

“But in reality 10 changes for them and they get the leaders back in the room, so there is a different vibe there from the start.

“Those guys are the ones that took the field against Scotland and came so close to winning in Paris. Like we’ve said all week, we know how difficult that is.

“I’m sure they will be using last week as motivation and putting that together with coming to the Aviva and taking our scalp, I’m sure that fires them up even more.”

Indeed, Australia head coach Rennie admits his side are determined to “make a statement” this weekend as they look to bounce back from that Italy loss.

“I understand the fact that as head coach you’ve got to take things on the chin,” he said.

“It was our decision to pick that side last week and I still don’t have any regrets around the men we chose.

“It was right for the group, it’s right for the future, we need to provide opportunity for them and we need to share the load.

“It was a side that was good enough to win and we didn’t so I’ve got to take responsibility for that.

“I know we’ve got a very determined squad, we want to make a statement this weekend.”

Players to watch

One of the main selection talking points was the decision to stick with Stuart McCloskey at centre, despite the return from suspension of Bundee Aki. Rightly so, is the view of many and we wholeheartedly agree as the Ulster player has grabbed his chance with both hands this autumn and looks to have finally nailed down a place in the squad after a long period on the periphery, where he must have felt like it was never going to happen for him at international level.

We are also excited to see Men’s 15s Breakthrough Player of the Year nominee Dan Sheehan in action again as he should cause Australia problems this weekend. Such a handful due to his speed and agility, the busy hooker is another who has taken his opportunity after Ronan Kelleher’s injury and never looked back.

For the Wallabies, several stars return after missing last weekend’s defeat in Florence and one player who consistently performs in the gold jersey is Andrew Kellaway. Due to something of an injury curse at full-back on tour, the versatile 27-year-old has been thrust into the 15 shirt on Saturday, meaning Mark Nawaqanitawase keeps his spot on the wing. A neat and tidy player, Kellaway also regularly finds holes in opposition defences so Ireland must be wary of him.

Jed Holloway is another unsung player in this Wallabies side and it’s pleasing to see him recently become an established figure in the set-up, thanks largely to impressive performances for the Waratahs. A powerful, mobile and smart back five forward, watch out for his work in the wide channels in Dublin.

Main head-to-head

They have been mentioned already but we are hugely excited by the battle at the base between Jamison Gibson-Park and Nic White. These two wily campaigners are key to their side’s respective game-plan, with Gibson-Park having nailed down the Ireland jersey this year thanks to a wonderful balance to his play.

White meanwhile will be disruptive but also intelligent with and without the ball, while his territorial game is top drawer. This is definitely one to watch.

Prediction

Both welcome back fresh legs after rests in their previous games but we feel it’s hard to look past a comfortable home win here. Ireland by 12 points.

Previous results

2018: Ireland won 20-16 in Sydney
2018: Ireland won 26-21 in Melbourne
2018: Australia won 18-9 in Brisbane
2016: Ireland won 27-24 in Dublin
2014: Ireland won 26-23 in Dublin
2013: Australia won 32-15 in Dublin
2011: Ireland won 15-6 in Auckland (RWC)
2010: Australia won 22-15 in Brisbane

The teams

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jimmy O’Brien, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Joe McCarthy, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Bundee Aki

Australia: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Tom Wright, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Nick Frost, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 David Porecki, 1 James Slipper (c)
Replacements: 16 Folau Fainga’a, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Noah Lolesio, 23 Jordan Petaia

Date: Saturday, November 19
Venue: Aviva Stadium
Kick-off: 20:00 GMT
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (NZR)
Assistant Referees: James Doleman (NZR), Tual Trainini (FFR)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (RFU)

READ MORE: Ireland: Stuart McCloskey and Jimmy O’Brien handed opportunity against Australia

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