Series on the line for Ireland in fascinating second Test in Melbourne

Joe Schmidt’s side are on the back foot after last weekend’s defeat to the Wallabies.

Murray Kinsella reports from Melbourne

IT WOULD HAVE been intriguing to be a fly on the wall in Joe Schmidt’s analysis-driven meetings this week.

The Kiwi’s rugby brain is legendary at this stage and he has a fine reputation for being able to pick out opposition weaknesses and find ways to negate their strengths, poring over hours of footage to find the keys to success.

A view as the Ireland team warm up Ireland at their captain's run in AAMI Park today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Usually, Schmidt doesn’t have a game the weekend before against the same opposition to study, but that is the beauty of these three-Test tours.

The chance to remedy things that went wrong, the opportunity to pick out a weakness in analysis and go after it. That said, Schmidt points out that the guessing and second-guessing can be a danger too.

“You don’t want to get into double jeopardy, where you think, ‘Well, they will, so we will, that they don’t, we didn’t, but we thought they might,’” said Schmidt yesterday.

“It can become a little bit of a distraction to you.”

While the unchanged Wallabies could throw something completely different at Ireland in today’s second Test in Melbourne [KO 11.05am Irish time, Sky Sports], particularly given that rain is forecast, there are obvious areas for Ireland to nail at AAMI Park.

Dealing with Isreal Folau, for example.

“I don’t think Israel Folau has got shorter or less athletic during the week so you would expect he will be involved in a lot of the aerial battles,” said Schmidt.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is looking forward to seeing how Ireland manage Folau, after they rather surprisingly kicked to the Wallabies fullback on restarts last weekend.

“I think it’s interesting because if you saw the kick-offs, they kicked to Izzy,” said Cheika.

“Why? Because they want him out of the game, ‘we’ll control him there and then he can’t get in the game.’”

Johnny Sexton Johnny Sexton is back at 10 for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A fine point from the Wallabies coach, who possesses a superb rugby brain of his own and can lean on expertise from the likes of Stephen Larkham in his coaching team.

As well as Folau’s dominance in the air, Ireland have to deal with the excellence of the Wallabies around the breakdown, where David Pocock leads the fight.

“Even before last weekend, Joe showed a clip of when we played them in Lansdowne a few years ago and it was a clip of me missing Pocock,” said Ireland lock Devin Toner. “That’s stuck in my head so I’m looking forward to the challenge.

“It’s up to everyone [to deal with him] and it’s a mindset of trying to get there early. He doesn’t go into it if he sees people are there to resource it.

“He goes in when people aren’t there, so if you have a good work-rate and anticipate it, he won’t go in because there will be two or three players there.”

The scrum was another area where Ireland felt they came up short in the first Test in Brisbane, although Schmidt questioned the legality of the Wallabies’ scrummaging.

“I think they will come hard at the scrum again,” said the Ireland boss. “They will hit left and keep going left at the mark, which was frustrating and difficult to control, but we are just going to have to try and keep them square and scrum them.”

The introduction of Niall Scannell at hooker is partly a response to the Irish difficulties, while starting Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong should allow them to be better than they were for the key scrum penalty in the 68th minute last weekend.

Schmidt also referenced the Wallabies’ “ability to counter-attack, particularly turnover attack, they can do it in the blink of an eye with the speed they have got.”

Peter O'Mahony Peter O'Mahony leads Ireland again. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Marike Koroibete, Folau and Dane Haylett-Petty certainly lend the Wallabies pace on the edge, but Ireland will feel there is much more to come from their defence.

Garry Ringrose is tasked with managing the all-important outside centre channel as Robbie Henshaw moves into 12 after a couple of uncharacteristic errors in the first Test.

“Defence is like attack,” said Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell. “It’s about decision-making, you back your players to make good decisions by putting them in those situations to make good decisions in the first place.

“But we were a bit too trigger-happy. We know that Australia like to, at times, go away from the flat attack that we’ve all been so used to seeing them do over the last few years.

“We’ve seen from time to time that, against linespeed, they’ll sit back that little bit deeper and entice you to come up that distance that you don’t want to come and they’ll pick you off on the edge.”

One area of the game where Ireland were dominant last weekend was at the lineout, where Peter O’Mahony won a steal and almost forced a second.

The Wallabies, with a debutant hooker in Brandon Paenga-Amosa and only a week’s training together also overthrew a couple of lineouts as they struggled for cohesion. They should be better this time out of touch, but Ireland will be going after them ferociously.

“That’s the difficulty of these back-to-back Tests, how well that you get to know each other,” said O’Mahony when asked about the lineout battle. “Lineout menus and defensive plans are quite specific for specific teams.

“When you’ve three games on the bounce, it is something you have to manage, but they’ll be in the same boat. It’s something we’ve to deal with, to come up with plans and try and change a bit of the picture.”

Good pictures will be important all over the pitch, particularly after a first Test in which Ireland painted poor ones to referee Marius van der Westhuizen and coughed up 10 penalties, an unacceptable figure in their set-up.

Joe Schmidt Joey Schmidt will expect fewer penalties. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

New Zealander Paul Williams is the man in the middle for today’s second Test and Ireland will be hopeful of getting more change out of him.

Perhaps most positively for Ireland, they welcome back some world-class rugby players. The impact of Johnny Sexton at out-half could be decisive, while Healy, Furlong, Scannell and Toner will be eager to impress in the tight five.

Andrew Conway will be hungry on the right wing, Ringrose should add a creative edge in attack and a possible debut off the bench for the dynamic turnover machine Tadhg Beirne would be interesting. Replacement scrum-half John Cooney will also be out to show his worth.

Last but not least, the indomitable Dan Leavy promises to provide a different level of physicality in the starting seven shirt.

“He’s had a great season and he’s brought a great energy,” said O’Mahony of Leavy. “He’s been incredible at playing rugby this year.

“He’s brought a physical edge, his fitness; his enthusiasm to get stuck in is infectious and it’s good to have him back in training this week. I’m sure he’s raring to go.”

Every single one of these Irish players is. It’s win-or-bust in Melbourne.

Defeat would mean a dour ending to a brilliant season, but success would bring Ireland into a thrilling series decider in Sydney next weekend.


15. Israel Folau
14. Dane Haylett-Petty
13. Samu Kerevi
12. Kurtley Beale
11. Marika Koroibete
10. Bernard Foley
9. Will Genia

1. Scott Sio
2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa
3. Sekope Kepu
4. Izack Rodda
5. Adam Coleman
6. David Pocock
7. Michael Hooper (captain)
8. Caleb Timu


16. Tolu Latu
17. Allan Alaalatoa
18. Taniela Tupou
19. Rob Simmons
20. Lukhan Tui
21. Pete Samu
22. Nick Phipps
23. Reece Hodge


15. Rob Kearney
14. Andrew Conway
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Keith Earls
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Cian Healy
2. Niall Scannell
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. James Ryan
5. Devin Toner
6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
7. Dan Leavy
8. CJ Stander


16. Rob Herring
17. Jack McGrath
18. Andrew Porter
19. Tadhg Beirne
20. Jordi Murphy
21. John Cooney
22. Joey Carbery
23. Jordan Larmour

Referee: Paul Williams [NZR].

- This article was updated at 4.03am to correct ‘about’ to ‘able’ in the second paragraph.

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Murray Kinsella

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