Ireland V Australia: Wallabies at risk in the Irish growing game

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The Independent Online

The Irish continue to be a growing force and today, if they beat Australia at Lansdowne Road, they will tick another new box by recording successive victories in short order over two of the Tri-Nations.

There is a back-to-back precedent of sorts, but that was in the era of Noel Murphy, Mike Gibson, old uncle Tom Kiernan and all. Ireland defeated South Africa - who were soundly beaten 32-15 in Dublin last weekend - in April 1965 and Australia in January 1967. The present eight-day turnaround is more evocative of the Six Nations' Championship of 2005, when Ireland, in pursuit of a long-awaited Grand Slam, failed to follow up a win over England with a repeat against France a fortnight later, despite being at home on both occasions.

In seeking to establish their credentials as consistent contenders, the Irish can now point to a third win over the Springboks, achieved with great panache, and last year's second Triple Crown in three seasons. Ireland's defence coach, Graham Steadman, admitted the progress represented by the statistics is of more than passing interest.

"The players are fully aware of it," he said. "What they're looking for is consistency of performance at this level. We know Australia will be still smarting from an inept performance against the Italians last week, and we don't want them putting on a show at our expense."

That Ireland are particularly buoyant is shown by a selection shake-up which affords first Test starts to Ulster's Bryan Young and Isaac Boss, in place of loose- head prop Marcus Horan and scrum-half Peter Stringer. Steadman likened the New Zealand-born Boss to a rugby league half-back or hooker - an intriguing contrast with the subtle Stringer. Elsewhere in the backs, Geordan Murphy and Denis Hickie replace Girvan Dempsey and the hamstrung Andrew Trimble.

Australia's mood is difficult to gauge. A 25-18 win in Rome last weekend - during which the Wallabies trailed by two points at half-time and played what one Aussie scribe called "abominable, aimless football" - came after a 29-29 draw in Cardiff. "We just didn't play," grumbled their head coach, John Connolly, after the Stadio Flaminio stumble. "Our selection of what to do and when to do it was poor."

Quite what Connolly can do about a scrummage which continues to live on its nerves is an open question. The only change to the pack is the recall of Phil Waugh at openside for George Smith. But it was only last June that Australia beat Ireland 37-15 with five tries to two in Perth.

"Without being disrespectful to South Africa, we know Australia will have more strike power," said Steadman. "Their precision under pressure is the one big difference. Give them half a yard and they'll take it, whereas on occasions we get good positions and don't finish them off. Their first 25 minutes against Wales was the most exciting rugby I've seen in years. We've got to make sure they don't spend too much time in their green zone; our red zone."

Another colourful analogy came from Ireland's head coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, when he dubbed the Australians "cham-eleons" for the changes in their back line. Like it or loathe it - and the great Joe Roff was firmly in the latter category in these pages three weeks ago - the autumn has been a time for experimentation. The numbers on the gold jerseys this afternoon bear only a marginally more familiar look, as Matt Giteau continues at scrum-half and Steve Larkham switches from inside-centre to fly-half. Stirling Mortlock, the tour captain, missed the Wales match but made his comeback against Italy and forms a hefty centre combination with Lote Tuqiri opposite Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, who tend to swap as they please.

The Irish forwards will offer no favours. Shane Horgan, the wing, will lead the side out to mark his 50th cap. Another memorable day beckons for Ireland's history men.

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