It was an observation from Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony that pre-empted further scrutiny on one aspect of Australia’s forward play. He mentioned when that “you look at their maul, the Brumbies probably have the best maul in Super Rugby at the moment.”
There are four Brumbies in the Wallaby starting pack, tighthead prop Allan Ala’alatoa, a brother of Leinster’s Michael, secondrow pairing Nick Frost and Cadeyrn Neville and their excellent number eight Rob Valetini.
Ireland have been forewarned, and the simplest way to try and negate the maul, is to disrupt Australia’s lineout possession, something that all their opponents to date on the tour – Scotland, France, and Italy – have managed to do.
Saturday night’s game at the Aviva Stadium pits an Ireland lineout with a 91 per cent success rate this season, including at least one steal in eight of their last 10 matches, against an Australian lineout that has struggled, averaging 78 per cent across the Autumn Nations series, including a few self-inflicted wounds in the form of three crooked throws.
Irish assistant coach Paul O’Connell’s work at this set piece has given the home side an excellent platform from which they have been able to launch an effective maul of their own, one that yielded a try for Josh van der Flier against the Springboks and was also very effective as a launch play for points against Fiji.
According to the official statistics Ireland’s main target area is the middle sector (92 per cent). Tadhg Beirne has won more lineouts (12) than any other Irish player having played in both matches to date while Peter O’Mahony (five), James Ryan (five and one steal) and Caelan Doris (three) have all contributed handsomely.
Australia’s lineout throw dispersion could be filed under the heading, ‘throw the ball to secondrow Nick Frost (16), while the next most lucrative source of possession comes from blindside flanker Jed Holloway, whom Munster fans will recall spent two months at the province on a short-term contract during the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
He proved a popular figure during his brief spell, and he certainly enjoyed his time there as he outlined in a subsequent interview. “I got to play for a pretty special team in Munster. It’s a different game a lot more technical. I got to learn a lot about lineout, scrum, and maul, all that sort of stuff. I feel like I got a lot out of it, and it refreshed me mentally.”
He wouldn’t have come across Beirne or O’Mahony per se for much of his time there as they were with Ireland in Japan. The third option for the Aussie hooker Dave Porecki is Cadeyrn Neville but he’s only caught a couple of balls in his three matches to date. There’ll have been plenty of analysis on this set piece in both camps during the week.
The challenge for Ireland is to try and get after the Wallabies’ lineout while ensuring a continued high percentage return from their own work out of touch. It would go a long way towards creating a winning platform.