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Irelands last game of a hugely successful year takes place this Saturday against Australia in The Aviva.
Since November of 2021 Ireland have only lost two games of rugby. They won all three November Internationals in 2021. They won all but one game in this years Six Nations. They won two out of three in New Zealand and now have won two from two this Autumn. That is eleven wins and two losses if my maths is correct. With one game to go in the year, that is mightily impressive. Especially as both losses were away games.
Andy Farrell will be looking to make it twelve wins this Saturday. To achieve that they will need to overcome a hurting and somewhat embarrassed Australia.
Having suffered a shock loss to Italy last week you will expect a retaliation from the Wallabies this weekend and they have named a strong team.
A big pack and as always, a dangerous back line will make Ireland work hard for their win. The Leinster players in particular will not be excited to see Will Skelton on the bench after his performance against them in the champions cup final.
Ireland also name a strong team. Johnny Sexton has overcome fitness doubts and starts at ten. This week he was also nominated for world player of the year and deservedly so.
If you read my midweek article, they will know I think not starting Crowley is a missed opportunity,
It’s understandable that Farrell and his staff really want to win. Crowley is named on the bench so hopefully we at least see some decent game time for him. Stuart McCloskey and Jimmy O’Brien have been the two big winners this Autumn and they get rewarded for their performances by starting again. McCloskey has been a beacon of consistency and Jimmy O’Brien has showed he is the current Swiss army knife on the Irish set up and will play his 3rd different position in as many weeks.
➖ Team selection.
➖ Wallabies challenge.
➖ Jimmy O'Brien's composure.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) November 18, 2022
The pack is arguable as strong as can be. Another world player of the year nominee in Josh Van Der Flier starts and what a year he has had. Josh was always a good player but over the past year he has absolutely flourished into one of the best back rowers in the world. Amazing what working on your carrying can do. Peter O’Mahony starts at 6. O’ Mahony’s selection always gets debated and to a degree I understand it with the wealth of selection we have. However, O’Mahony rarely if ever doesn’t perform for Ireland and is an absolute warrior. He sums up a lot of the good around Irish rugby and you get the feeling he is willing to die on that pitch if necessary. A world class line-out operator and a turnover threat at all times, doubt him at your peril. A front row of Porter, Sheehan and Furlong is the strongest Ireland have. The pairing of Ryan and Beirne in the second row is one Farrell trusts. They are a nice combo of brawn and mobility, and they give great adjustability depending on the side you are facing.
The bench is a nice mix. A new cap awaits Leinster’s Joe McCarthy and I have been impressed by him whenever I have seen him play. Bundee Aki returns after his suspension and will be eager for some game time.
Bundee gets doubted by a lot of Irish fans for whatever reason, but Farrell loves him and trusts him.
Go back and look at any big game Ireland have played since Bundee has been involved. He starts almost every game when available. He wasn’t selected as a Lion for no reason. Craig Casey will also be looking to get some game time with both Sexton and Crowley to continue developing that relationship on pitch.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) November 18, 2022
Overall, I expect Ireland to win. Australia will be well up for it and will hit the ground running so this will be a great test to finish off the year.
Does this team selection help towards fixing Irelands long term issue? No, it does not.
We know how good Ireland are when they have their strongest team out on the pitch. We know the ceiling of this team, what we don’t know is how high, or more importantly how low Irelands floor is. I am torn as an Irish fan because on one hand I keep hearing that winning is a habit and the past 12 months suggests that is true, but also the fact of the matter is we are very reliant on one player and that is a narrow tightrope to walk.
I have enjoyed this Autumn Nation series and think its great addition to the rugby calendar. Another bumper weekend of rugby is ahead before we delve back into the URC. Although I have my worries, I really enjoy this Irish team and watching them win games is always a joy. Lets hope they make it twelve wins this Saturday