Ireland primed to claim southern hemisphere scalp

Coach Declan Kidney keen to let his backs off the leash against Australia tomorrow

There is so much riding on the results of Ireland's World Cup play-offs with France tonight and next Wednesday (some would argue the mood of the nation), that it is hard to justify the importance of the Irish rugby team's "friendly" clash with Australia at Croke Park tomorrow .

There actually is a trophy at stake, the Lansdowne Cup, but when Ireland are not involved in a Six Nations or World Cup encounter, people struggle to see how the result matters.

It does matter, hugely, and the evidence will be in the intensity of both sides in what is shaping up to be a fascinating battle. Robbie Deans is building a squad for the World Cup in 2011, when Australia will be grouped with Ireland at the pool stages, and has been taking a pasting from his own media after a disappointing Tri-Nations campaign. However, Deans has a talented group of players at his disposal and their victory over England at Twickenham last weekend will have given them confidence.

Australia will look to expose flaws in an Ireland team that has not played together since March; they are also certain to target the front-row, which includes a debutant (Cian Healy) and two players (Jerry Flannery and John Hayes) short on game time.

Like Deans, Ireland coach Declan Kidney is also building towards the World Cup but is further down the track, with proven combinations and battle-hardened quality spread throughout his team. Under Kidney, Ireland have a superb record of nine victories from 10: what they don't have is a victory over one of the southern hemisphere's big three. Tomorrow's match offers the opportunity to assess how far they have travelled in 12 months. The Grand Slam laid down a marker for this Irish team but they are now looking to expand their game-plan beyond the structured approach that served them so well last season.

They have the weaponry in the backline, and, stung by a Lions experience that did not do his talents justice, Luke Fitzgerald looks ravenous this season and forms a quality back three with Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe.

Kearney's class under the high ball is a given but we may now see his natural attacking instincts given free reign, while Brian O'Driscoll's excellence throws more fuel on the fire of Irish optimism, particularly when weighed up against the talented but callow Wallaby midfield of Digby Ioane and Quade Cooper. Paddy Wallace is a nice foil for O'Driscoll at inside centre and his kicking and distribution skills will be of considerable use when Ronan O'Gara comes under pressure.

At scrum-half, Tomas O'Leary will need to keep tabs on Australia's explosive talent Will Genia, while not disregarding his own threat in attack.

The back-row contest, though, promises to be one of the highlights of the contest. The Irish trio need to pressure Matt Giteau at No 10 and limit the turnover-winning capacity of Australia's openside David Pocock.

Concerns over Hayes after his month-and-a-half lay-off are misplaced, and the Cappamore man will roll up and do his thing with customary efficiency, while locks Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan will expect to dominate James Horwill and Mark Chisholm. And Healy? Sit back and watch, he's here to stay.

However, the strongest reason for backing Ireland tomorrow is the quality of their backroom team: Kidney, Les Kiss, Gert Smal, Alan Gaffney and manager Paul McNaughton have created a winning environment that is hard to resist.

Smal will guarantee set-piece possession and a challenge for Australia in that departments, while Gaffney and Kiss's knowledge of the Wallaby players will prove a notable advantage for Ireland. Kiss has coached against Australia twice before during his time with South Africa, and after securing one win and a draw, he will be determined to taste more success tomorrow.

"There are lot of emotions there for me obviously," he said. "There are a lot of guys that I was very close to during my time with the Waratahs. But this isn't the time for getting mixed up with those emotions. My total world is with this Irish team. That's what I'm emotionally investing in at the moment."

Australia go into the contest after a run of games that may help them seize an early initiative, but Ireland's overall quality and self-belief should be powerful enough to see them sneak home in what promises to be an intriguing contest. Giteau versus O'Gara, O'Leary versus Genia, Elsom versus Ferris and Heaslip versus Palu are clashes to savour – this is going to be full on. Friendly? Not a chance.

Croke Park: Tomorrow's line-ups

Ireland

R Kearny (Leinster) 15

T Bowe (Ospreys) 14

B O'Driscoll (Lein, c) 13

P Wallace (Ulster) 12

L Fitzgerald (Lein) 11

R O'Gara (Munster) 10

T O'Leary (Munster) 9

C Healy (Leinster) 1

J Flannery (Munster) 2

J Hayes (Munster) 3

D O'Callaghan (Mun) 4

P O'Connell (Mun) 5

S Ferris (Ulster) 6

D Wallace (Munster) 7

J Heaslip (Leinster) 8

Replacements: S Cronin, T Court, L Cullen, D Leamy, E Reddan, J Sexton, K Earls

Australia

A A-Cooper (Brum) 15

P Hynes (Reds) 14

D Ioane (Reds) 13

Q Cooper (Reds) 12

D Mitchell (W Force) 11

M Giteau (W Force) 10

W Genia (Reds) 9

B Robinson (W'ths) 1

S Moore (Brumbies) 2

B Alexander (Brum) 3

J Horwill (Reds) 4

M Chisholm (Brum) 5

R Elsom (Brum) 6

D Pocock (W Force) 7

W Palu (Waratahs) 8

Replacements: T Nau, M Dunning, D Mumm, G Smith, L Burgess, R Cross, J O'Connor

Referee: J Kaplan (SA)

Venue: Croke Park

Kick-off: 15.00

TV: BBC2

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower