Andy Farrell wary of ever-potent Australia threat as Ireland go to the well again

Coach reverts to all but two of the starting XV which faced South Africa as Gibson-Park and O’Brien earn call-ups

Like anyone who played for the Great Britain or England rugby league team, Andy Farrell has the utmost respect for any Australian side in either code.

They have always been rugby league’s dominant force and in his stellar 45-cap playing career spread over two decades, Farrell played against the Kangaroos 20 times, which featured five wins and 15 defeats.

While England won two of four matches against the Wallabies in Farrell’s four years as Stuart Lancaster’s defence coach, Australia’s 33-13 win at Twickenham effectively ended the hosts’ interest in the 2015 World Cup and spelt the end for that coaching ticket.

Farrell was Ireland defence coach when the host nation beat Australia 27-24 in the last meeting at the Aviva Stadium five years ago and when completing that 2-1 series win in 2018.

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But he is much more inclined to overlook their defeat by Italy last week and instead focus on how the core of this side nearly beat France two weeks ago as well as beating the Springboks and being cruelly denied a famous comeback win over the All Blacks in September.

“Exactly that,” he said yesterday, in advance of Saturday’s clash at the Aviva Stadium.

“It’s been a great week for us, it’s like the South Africa week and there is a good majority of our players who have never played against Australia before and don’t quite know the mentality of the Australian team,” Farrell added.

Seven starters and three replacements fall into that category.

“For me, it’s never changed. I’ve played against Australia all me life you know, and I know the mentality and the games you just mentioned there, that is 100 per cent where they sit in my mind. It’s exactly where they sit themselves.

“They’ll think they were hard done by not to beat New Zealand, and the refereeing decision etc. They know they can beat anyone in world rugby on any given day and that’s why they’re such a threat and when you add to that Dave Rennie, we know what he brings to a team.

“He’s a wise, wise coach that has been around for a long time and won a lot of things. He’s a very shrewd coach, they are very dangerous and it’s a perfect game for us at the weekend.”

In making eight changes to the starting line-up from last week’s laboured win over Fiji, Farrell himself has reverted to all but two of the starting XV which played against South Africa almost a fortnight ago.

Jimmy O’Brien effectively replaces Robert Baloucoune (with Mack Hansen switching across from the left to the right wing) and Jamison Gibson-Park starts instead of Conor Murray, the injured centurion in that game.

The pack remains the same for a fifth Test running against the southern hemisphere big three, albeit there is one change in the back-up forwards, with the uncapped 21-year-old Joe McCarthy replacing Kieran Treadwell on the bench, where Craig Casey and Jack Crowley are joined by Bundee Aki.

Farrell said it was not an especially close call to retain Stuart McCloskey even though Aki had completed his suspension, adding of the Ulsterman: “For different reasons obviously he was off early against South Africa and the flow of the game didn’t really get going for most of them in the Fiji game. I just want him to be himself, go after the game, stay connected to the game as much as you can and make an impact which we’ve seen him do time and again for his province.”

There were four red cards for high hits, or in Antoine Dupont’s case taking out an airborne player, in the Ireland-Fiji and France-South Africa games, and New Zealand-England Women’s World Cup final.

Albert Tuisue’s red card was the fourth time a team opposing Ireland have suffered a red card this year. Yet while Farrell’s side have made a determined effort to control their tackle height, it is something that needs constant reinforcing.

“We do, we’re constant with that,” said Farrell. “We know that some teams live on the edge with that stuff and sometimes it falls over the edge, they think that it influences the game. We’re a little bit different to that, we go hard on discipline. We go hard on things that we got away with that we shouldn’t have gotten away with.

“So, I think we’re realists as far as that’s concerned because we want to play the game as it should be played, but we also don’t want to give easy outs to the opposition and put pressure on ourselves.

“It’s something we’ve been pretty good at for a decent amount of time now but keeping that message fresh is super important because of the way the game is at the minute.”

One player who will have to tread particularly carefully henceforth is Aki. Although his sending off in Connacht’s defeat by the Stormers eight weeks ago was his first with his province, he’s also suffered two red cards playing for Ireland.

“Of course, we have chats,” said Farrell. “There’s nobody more disappointed than him, he doesn’t do it on purpose. Everyone’s different as far as mentality is concerned. We work on all of our players on how to stay calm enough to read the situations better and being able to be aggressive on the back of the decisions that they’ve made is super important for us rather than just running around, fired up, the whole time.

“The game’s changed in that regard, people get it wrong from time to time. I don’t think we’ve anyone who has any type of malice in our side that does things intentionally.”

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Mack Hansen (Connacht), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster), Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster, capt), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster); Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Tadhg Beirne (Munster), James Ryan (Leinster); Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: Rob Herring (Ulster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Finlay Bealham (Connacht), Joe McCarthy (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster), Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon), Jack Crowley (Munster/Cork Constitution), Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians).

AUSTRALIA: Andrew Kellaway; Mark Nawaqanitawase, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Tom Wright; Bernard Foley, Nic White; James Slipper (capt), David Porecki, Allan Ala’alatoa; Nick Frost, Cadeyrn Neville; Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Rob Valetini.

Replacements: Folau Fainga’a, Tom Robertson, Taniela Tupou, Will Skelton, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, Noah Lolesio, Jordan Petaia.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times