Sydney (AFP) – Ireland will bid for a prestigious southern hemisphere series win against Australia on Saturday to underline their burgeoning status just over a year ahead of the World Cup.
The Six Nations champions, who trail only world title-holders New Zealand in the international standings, haven’t won a series in Australia since they swept a two-Test tour in 1979.
But in a sign of their growing clout, Joe Schmidt’s team shape as favourites for the decider in Sydney after they won last week in Melbourne, levelling the series at 1-1 and ending their 39-year away win drought against Australia.
“I guess it offers an opportunity, away from home, to play for something special; something that hasn’t been done in 39 years,” said forwards coach Simon Easterby.
“To win a Test series in the southern hemisphere is a difficult thing to do.
“We know, we found that out in South Africa when we were 1-0 up and we came away with a 2-1 loss (in 2016). These experiences are great for what will hopefully happen in 15-16 months’ time (at the World Cup).”
Centre Robbie Henshaw says Ireland can send out a signal to the rugby world by claiming the silverware in Australia, where they had lost 11 straight Tests until last week’s 26-21 win.
“It would be a massive statement for us, we’re currently ranked second in the world and we have to go out there and show the world why we’re second,” Henshaw said.
“We have a great chance for us to come here and create history and win a series.
“Australia are going to come out firing, there’s definitely going to be a massive reaction to how they went last week and we have to match that.”
– Losing ‘not an option’ –
The Wallabies were in the box seat after winning the series opener 18-9 in Brisbane, but they were dominated by the Irish in the second game before a late rally.
Australia will be hell-bent on preventing a second home series defeat to northern hemisphere opposition after being humbled 3-0 by Eddie Jones’s England two years ago.
“It is something I will never forget,” Wallabies’ lock Adam Coleman said.
“There was absolute disappointment that we let the series go and it was a whitewash in Australia. In our own backyard. It was really disappointing.
“We are very motivated to get the win on Saturday. It is massive for us. We have talked about how losing on home soil is just not an option.”
Schmidt has made five Irish team changes with Jack McGrath at loosehead prop, Sean Cronin the starting hooker, Jack Conan at number eight, inside-centre Bundee Aki and winger Jacob Stockdale.
Wallabies counterpart Michael Cheika beefed up his forward pack with blindside flanker Lukhan Tui and Nick Phipps coming in as scrum-half after Will Genia broke his arm in Melbourne.
Australia – Israel Folau; Dane Haylett-Petty, Samu Kerevi, Kurtley Beale, Marika Koroibete; Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps; David Pocock, Michael Hooper (capt), Lukhan Tui; Adam Coleman, Izack Rodda; Sekope Kepu, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Scott Sio.
Reserves: Tolu Latu, Tom Robertson, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Ned Hanigan, Pete Samu, Joe Powell, Reece Hodge.
Ireland – Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack Conan, Peter O’Mahony (capt), CJ Stander; James Ryan, Devin Toner; Tadhg Furlong, Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath.
Reserves: Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Jordi Murphy, Kieran Marmion, Ross Byrne, Jordan Larmour.
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (FRA)