Nigel Wall, NRL.com
Australia v Ireland
Thomond Park, Limerick
Saturday 8pm (UK time)
Sunday 7am (AEDT); 6am (AEST)
On Sunday, our World Cup stars dressed in green
Will take pointed instructions from coach Sheens:
“Don’t slacken off, my charges
Make damn sure of your barges
Or over the next few weeks you won’t be seen!”
That’s the key message for the Kangaroos ahead of their game with Ireland in Limerick which will serve as Australia’s final hit-out before the quarter finals commence next week.
Several new and fringe-regulars within the squad of 17 will be keen to press their claims for inclusion at the business end of the tournament, while the demand on entrenched members will be to perform to the levels expected of them – or else.
Sheens has made seven changes to the team that thumped Fiji 34-2 in trying, wet St Helens last weekend, most notably resting dual man-of-the-match winner Johnathan Thurston, who gets the night off along with Greg Inglis, Darius Boyd and Matt Scott.
In a reshuffle, last week’s starting No.7 Daly Cherry-Evans will start at No.6 for Thurston, with Cooper Cronk rejoining the team at halfback. Billy Slater returns at fullback after Inglis filled in last week, while Brent Tate reclaims his spot at right-side centre. Brett Morris will play on the left wing, with twin brother Josh shifting to the left side of the field to nab the jersey worn by Michael Jennings last week. In the forwards, Greg Bird comes in for Luke Lewis and Sam Thaiday gives Matt Scott a rest.
With similar weather conditions likely in Limerick, Sheens will be demanding more focus from the side in the build-up to the knock-out stages. They played in fits and starts against Fiji; rather than putting the Bati to the sword they found themselves battling to string together a good volume of thrusting blows, hampered by 11 errors and a woeful 71 per cent completions rate. Sure, they won decisively but Sheens knows they can’t afford to register that low figure against a top-notch team or they face ruin.
That’s unlikely here against an Ireland side that was competitive against Fiji (losing 32-14) but overwhelmed by England who ran in 42 unanswered points in Huddersfield last Sunday.
That said, the Kangaroos know the biggest threats will come from NRL players Brett White, Rory Kostjasyn, James Hasson and Api Pewhairangi.
A point of interest will be Robbie Farah lining up opposite Pat Richards, who rejoins the Wests Tigers in 2014 after teaming with Farah to win a premiership in the black and gold in 2005.
Watch Out Australia: Ben Currie is a strong, prolific runner of the football who could sneak through the Aussies’ front line if they drop their guard. Playing No.6 against England, Currie made 12 runs, busted a bunch of tackles and managed an offload. He also made two offloads at lock in their first outing against Fiji.
Second-rower David Allen is a capable promoter of the pill, with three offloads from two games.
Really though, complacency looms as the only possible inhibitor to an Australian annihilation of the Irish.
Watch Out Ireland: The Morris twins Brett and Josh, who reunite for their third Test match together, could carve the Irish open on the left edge. Brett scored a try and ran for a game-high 178 metres in the Kangaroos’ win over England, while Josh scored a try despite limited opportunities against Fiji. Significantly, England’s left-side winger Ryan Hall crossed for three tries against the Irish last week.
Where It Will Be Won: On the fringes. The Irish defence will do their best to engage the Kangaroos’ forwards up the centre of the park but they will be unable to prevent creative plays from spreading the ball wide. Every time it gets in the hands of Cherry-Evans, Josh Morris, Brent Tate and Billy Slater, points won’t be far away. In fact, we’re expecting the centres to cross for more tries than the wingers.
Televised: 7mate – Live from 6.30am (NSW), 5.30 (Qld).
The Way We See It: This is the chance for the Kangaroos to click and rack up a cricket score, which they should do with ease. Australia by 50-plus points.
* Statistics: NRL Stats