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Dublin: 17 °C Wednesday 26 June, 2019
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Ireland v Australia: 3 key battles to make November a success for Schmidt

Youth, experience and returning number 10s. This game better start soon.

Image: inpho

WE’RE GONNA GO out on a limb here and say that Ireland’s tight five is a cut above what the green and gold will present tomorrow.

With that in mind we’ve shred up our original key battlegrounds in favour of something a little looser.

This fixture is one that Ireland have enjoyed over the past decade and it always throws out an intriguing contest. So, after the new coaches on either side of the fence named teams with a mix of fresh blood and experience, here’s where we think the keys lie.

Sean O’Brien v Michael Hooper

Hooper introduced himself to the world a year ago as a glorious carbon copy of David Pocock in the win over England at Twickenham. 12 months on, the mask has slipped a little, but Hooper remains a quality openside and that skill-set is absolutely key to a pack that would otherwise find itself backpedaling.

Chris Henry’s hamstring injury means there is now no genuine competition in the Ireland back-row, but it does deliver us the first choice trio (until Stephen Ferris rolls the stone away). The debate over O’Brien’s abilities as a ‘traditional’ seven are long over, but the challenges keep on coming and if Eoin Reddan’s selection is to be vindicated, then the scrum-half will need efficient service so that he can give the same to Jonathan Sexton.

Jonathan Sexton v Quade Cooper

Speaking of the Racing Metro out-half, he’ll be lining up opposite one of the few men in world rugby who make him look like ‘a kicking 10′.

Joe Schmidt described his former Leinster out-half as “flat” a week out from the win over Samoa and duly left him out. Tomorrow will be Sexton’s first outing for Ireland since the Six Nations defeat to England. On top of that, it will be his first cap  as an outsider, having not been playing with half the back-line on a weekly basis. Reddan’s selection should ease the transition, but we expect some teething problems as Sexton gets back in the groove.

Quade Cooper is a month into his second chance at life as a Wallaby and back with Will Genia. Formidable as this pairing is, their last meeting with Ireland and England have shown that they can be pressured into mistakes.

Luke Marshall v Matt Toomua

This head to head pairing have a combined age of 45 and both will be targeting one another to make a name for themselves on the big stage.

Toomua is a true second-five-eighth in that he is actually an out-half. While Marshall has also been converted from the number 10 slot, his transformation was always by design and Joe Schmidt’s hope must be that the Ulster prodigy’s extra bulk can give him an extra dimension to (literally) take him over Toomua.

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Sean Farrell

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