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Dublin: 3 °C Monday 16 December, 2019

Beat the Wallabies and Ireland can say 'we’re building something that will endure'

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt feels a win over the Australians ‘would be historic.’

THREE WINS FROM four in November would be an outstanding return from Ireland, particularly given that two of those fixtures were against the All Blacks.

The hardest part – beating the All Blacks for the first time ever – has been completed, but Joe Schmidt’s side won’t be easing off the pedal this weekend.

Joe Schmidt Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Michael Chieka’s Wallabies, the third best team in the world, are in town and Schmidt believes that a victory for his Ireland team can be a genuine platform for further achievements in the coming years.

A win over New Zealand will have already lifted the belief levels of Irish rugby players, but Schmidt is stressing the need for his men to finish their 2016 on a high.

“It’s hugely important, especially when you’ve got pivotal players who aren’t available, who have been part of the spine of the team for so long,” said Schmidt yesterday, in reference to the fact that Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw are missing this weekend.

“We’ve worked our way through without having those players available. You’re still Ireland. You’re still a national team and you still take that much pride. These players really do take pride.

“You are just trying to help them get the reward that they deserve for rolling their sleeves up. I know everyone is. There’s kids coming into this side that are pretty wide-eyed.

“If they can gain more experience this weekend, that’s incremental. I said right at the start Chicago would be a reference point for us. I don’t think, result aside, we got too far from the reference points last weekend [in defeat to New Zealand].

“I don’t think that we cowered or we got knocked off our game too far, despite losing those three guys in the first 20 minutes and despite how physical the New Zealanders were.

Joe Schmidt Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I thought they brought their A-Game, certainly physically and the guys stood up to it really well. I’d like to think we can finish really positively, in a similar vein, and it would be great to get the result.

“It would be historic. If we could get a result against Australia after getting a result in Cape Town and getting a result in Chicago, we could really say that we’ve got some kids that are coming through.

“We could say we’re building something that will endure, leading further into next year and the year after.”

While CJ Stander and Rob Kearney have come through head injuries to be named in Schmidt’s starting XV, Ireland are without Sexton and Henshaw – both of whom were forced off inside the opening 18 minutes against the All Blacks last weekend.

Paddy Jackson has his latest shot at the 10 shirt as a result of Sexton’s absence, while Garry Ringrose starts at inside centre after impressing off the bench there last weekend.

While frustrated to be without Henshaw, Schmidt has no concerns about Ringrose lining out in the 12 shirt – even if he is better known as a 13.

“At least at 12, you’re part of a three-man panel, and you slide that panel across the pitch and you keep closing doors if you can,” said Schmidt. ”So he’s more connected in there.”

Simon Zebo’s “stiff neck and all-round body soreness” have been something of a concern for Ireland, according to Schmidt, although he has been named on the bench and will take his place if he comes through today’s captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium.

Zebo was the victim of a dangerous high tackle from Malakai Fekitoa last weekend, with the All Blacks centre subsequently banned for a week for his challenge.

The Ireland players in a huddle Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

A disciplinary hearing found that Fekitoa should have seen red, rather than being sin binned, and this week has also involved plenty of tiresome fallout from a highly-physical contest.

Yesterday, it emerged that World Rugby referees chief Alain Rolland had admitted to the All Blacks that the yellow card for Aaron Smith in Dublin was an error.

Schmidt, however, declined to reveal the extent of his contact with Rolland since last weekend.

The Ireland head coach did say that he believes World Rugby will hope there is no need for further reviews after this weekend, particularly given that all teams were issued with images and videos before the November Tests to warn them of a clampdown on high tackles.

“Look, I think Alain is hopeful of that because that’s why he sent out the images and that’s why they are trying very hard to be very, I suppose, conscious of the safety of players,” said Schmidt.

“So I think that Alain himself will be looking to drive that with the officials for this weekend and I think he’ll be making not just referees, but TMOs, maybe accountable to make sure that they are tracking the game and making sure they are accurate within it.

“But at the same time, what you don’t want a witch hunt where you’re stopping the game every two minutes for something that might have been this or might have been that.

“The game is going to be physical and fast, and there’s going to be a few of them this weekend and so you don’t want to stifle the game, but you want to keep it as safe as possible.”

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Murray Kinsella

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