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Letter from Surfers Paradise: Chilled-out Ireland look towards Brissy

Joe Schmidt’s squad took advantage of a couple of down days on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Murray Kinsella reports from Surfers Paradise

THOUGH IT HARDLY needed to be emphasised, the sheer excitement around the State of Origin was highlighted yesterday by the sight of cows in a field near Surfers Paradise with ‘GO QLD’ painted on their sides.

Queensland and New South Wales kicked off the latest instalment of their ferocious rugby league rivalry on Wednesday evening in Australia to the usual level of support.

Rugby League - State of Origin - Game 2 NSW v Queensland - MCG State of Origin is a huge sporting event. Source: AAP/PA Images

The State of Origin is battled out over a series of three games every year and the interest levels around Australia are immense.

Wednesday’s fixture was played out in front of a crowd of 87,122 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The TV figures are always jaw-dropping too, with a peak audience of 4.1 million viewers making Game Three of the 2017 State of Origin the most-watched TV programme of last year in Australia, beating the Australian Open men’s final into second.

The intense build-up and media coverage leading into New South Wales’ win in this year’s brutally physical Game One has meant that Ireland’s first clash with the Wallabies in rugby union hasn’t picked up a great deal of attention yet.

The battle for space in the media is a constant one for rugby union in Australia, a sports-mad country where league, Aussie Rules, cricket, football, and several other sports are all popular too.

Newspapers this week have had page upon page about the State of Origin and plenty of build-up to Brisbane boxer Jeff Horn’s welterweight title defence against Terence Crawford in Las Vegas this weekend.

It has been fascinating to see the Wallabies’ media strategy in this climate of competition. Their press event on Tuesday before training at Ballymore in ‘Brissy’ essentially involved every single player in the squad being made available for one-on-one interviews.

Other nations, Ireland included, generally select a small handful of players and/or coaches to be interviewed by several journalists at the same time in a tightly-controlled setting.

Garry Ringrose and Cian Healy Cian Healy watches Garry Ringrose's shot at Lakelands Golf Club. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Wallabies’ biggest names – Israel Folau, David Pocock and Will Genia – were also rolled out earlier in the week and the Wallabies have even been distributing video footage of interviews with their players and shots of them training in order to encourage publications and companies who don’t attend their press events to provide coverage.

While the Wallabies have been carrying out their usual fight for attention, Ireland have been happily enjoying a few days of peace and quiet on the Gold Coast.

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Their decision to spend the first five days of their tour at the impressive Royal Pines Resort, an hour’s drive south of Brisbane, looks clever.

With just one short media session on Tuesday and down days on both Monday and Wednesday, the players have been able to get over the long-haul travel and unwind ahead of one final push over the next three weekends.

After water parks and jet-skiing on Monday, a large group of Ireland’s squad played golf on Wednesday as others headed for the stunning local beaches to catch a few waves.

Many of the players will have taken in the State of Origin clash on Wednesday evening, hopeful that their meeting with the Wallabies can generate a fine atmosphere of its own.

With around 45,000 tickets sold for the 52,500-capacity Suncorp Stadium ahead of Saturday’s clash and thousands of Irish supporters expected, it should be quite the occasion even if the build-up hasn’t been too exciting in Australia.

Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway, Rob Kearney and Jordi Murphy on the first tee Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway, Rob Kearney and Jordi Murphy before a round of golf. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland will train at Royal Pines on Thursday morning before making the move into Brisbane, where Joe Schmidt will announce his team to take on Michael Cheika’s side.

The Ireland head coach will probably have enjoyed the largely uninterrupted few days down on the Gold Coast, where we can be certain he was poring over footage of the Wallabies looking for any late insights into how his team can beat them.

There is a slightly strange feel to the Gold Coast at present in the Australian winter, with a complete lack of the crowds that throng the place in summer. Wednesday evening brought some rain but, otherwise, there have been clear skies and temperatures of 20°C.

After the calm of the first part of their tour, Ireland will head into the bustle of Brissy energised and excited to build towards their opening battle with the Wallabies.

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Murray Kinsella

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