O'Driscoll depends on Celtic cunning to thwart Australia

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The Independent Online

If the weather forecast is to be believed, rain and gales could rob tomorrow's match between Ireland and Australia at Lansdowne Road of one of the more intriguing heavyweight bouts on the autumn card.

Too much of the wet stuff and the ball will remain in the relative warmth of the forward exchanges, leaving both sets of backs numb-fingered and empty-handed. And that would simply rob everyone of the prospect of one of the most formidable midfield partnerships in the world game, Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, taking on Test rugby's rawest centre pairings - the Wallaby captain Stirling Mortlock and Lote Tuqiri playing together at centre for the first time in a Test.

Despite giving away height and weight to the Wallaby centres, O'Driscoll and D'Arcy have clocked up a vast amount of game time together for their province, Leinster, and their country. So it will need all their Celtic cunning if Ireland's two are to win that particular battle. Midfield success depends on possession and here the scales appear to tip Ireland's way. Their line-out and scrum look a class above their opponents.

The Wallaby cause is not helped by the late withdrawal of experienced hooker Brendan Cannon, who strained his neck against Italy in Rome last weekend.

Tai McIsaac steps up from the bench and Stephen Moore comes into the replacements. But the Wallaby head coach, John Connolly, is not entirely pessimistic. Having enticed Michael Foley, his former assistant at Bath and a former Wallaby hooker with 50 caps, to take charge of the forwards things have been looking up in the Wallaby pack.

"Michael has done a great job," Connolly said. "We have some promising youngsters in the front row such as props Guy Shepherdson, Benn Robinson and Rodney Blake, who are all in their early twenties, and their ratio of successes to failures at scrum-time is only one in 10."

Behind the scrum Connolly has had Aussies gaping in amazement by picking Matt Giteau - normally a centre or outside half - at scrum-half. Giteau wore the No 9 shirt at schoolboy level, but he will be coming up against the adopted Ulsterman Isaac Boss, a New Zealand Under-19 cap, and that could be a crucial area of the confrontation.

Ireland want a second southern hemisphere scalp to go with South Africa's last week. Australia want to avoid a repeat of their 2002 defeat here and stretch their winning run against Ireland to five.

It seems inevitable that it is going to rain on someone's parade tomorrow.

Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); S Horgan, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, D Hickie (all Leinster); R O'Gara (Munster), I Boss; B Young, R Best (all Ulster), J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (all Munster), N Best (Ulster), D Wallace, D Leamy (both Munster). Replacements: F Sheahan, M Horan (both Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), S Easterby (Llanelli), P Stringer (Munster), P Wallace (Ulster), G Dempsey (Leinster).

Australia: C Latham (Gold Coast); C Rathbone (Royals), L Tuqiri (West Harbour), S Mortlock (Gordon, capt), M Gerrard (Warringah); S Larkham (Wests), M Giteau (Queanbeyan); A Baxter (Norths), T McIsaac (Wests ), G Shepherdson (Canberra Vikings), M Chisholm (Tuggeranong), N Sharpe (Rockingham), R Elsom (Randwick), P Waugh (Sydney Univ), W Palu (Warringah). Replacements: S Moore (University QLD), B Robinson (Eastwood), A Campbell (Sydney Univ), G Smith (Manly), J Valentine (University QLD), M Rogers (Southern Districts), S Staniforth (Nedlands).

Referee: M Jonker (South Africa).