Brisbane (Australia) (AFP) – Coach Michael Cheika has shown his hand by picking a forwards-dominated Wallabies squad to take on Six Nations champions Ireland in the first of three Tests in Brisbane on Saturday.
Cheika, who coached Leinster to their first-ever European Cup in 2009, knows well the challenges of playing the Irish — currently ranked second in the world and unbeaten in their last 12 internationals.
The Wallabies mentor has gone with a physical approach to tame them, backed up by the attacking potency of Will Genia, Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau.
He has called up Queensland Reds duo, hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa and No.8 Caleb Timu, to make their international debuts and has gone with a six-two forwards-backs bench, featuring another potential debutant in backrower Pete Samu.
The Irish, who haven’t won a Test in Australia since 1979, are an attritional combination, playing patient buildup rugby and probing for weaknesses with their pinpoint kicking game.
The Wallabies might have their best chance of an upset in the opening game of the series with Ireland starting without six players from the Grand Slam side that downed England at Twickenham in March.
Irish coach Joe Schmidt left out Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose, Dan Leavy, Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong from his starting side along with injured captain Rory Best following Leinster’s successful European and Pro 14 campaigns.
Sexton, who looms as the danger man for the Wallabies in this series having recently steered Leinster to a record-equalling fourth European Champions Cup, was named among the reserves for Saturday’s Test.
“They heavily rely on his kicking game,” Wallabies playmaker Kurtley Beale told reporters.
“He’s their main creator in the team. Whenever they do have ball in hand, a lot of the time he is their go-to guy to release pressure by putting balls in the corner.
“That’s something we’re very aware of but he certainly plays a dominant role with the way they play with ball in hand and certainly the way they exit their own half.”
– Really competitive –
Munster-bound Joey Carbery, who has only started in two of his previous 10 caps — against the United States and Fiji — got the nod ahead of Sexton for the first Test alongside Conor Murray.
Murray is determined that Ireland build on their Six Nations win earlier this year.
“This group, the success that we had the last time we were together was fantastic, we’ve all been aiming for that for quite a while but we all want to finish this season on a high and we’re all really competitive,” Murray said.
“It’s a challenge to come here against one of the big-dog teams and put down a marker and to get a result down here is something everyone in our group wants to do.
“It’s a really competitive environment and I think we’re really good at that, just moving on and looking at the next target, our next challenge.”
Australia – Israel Folau; Marika Koroibete, Samu Kerevi, Kurtley Beale, Dane Haylett-Petty; Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Caleb Timu, Michael Hooper (capt), David Pocock; Adam Coleman, Izack Rodda; Sekope Kepu, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Scott Sio.
Reserves: Tolu Latu, Allan Alaalatoa, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Lukhan Tui, Pete Samu, Nick Phipps, Reece Hodge.
Ireland – Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; CJ Stander, Jordi Murphy, Peter O’Mahony (capt); Iain Henderson, James Ryan; John Ryan, Rob Herring, Jack McGrath.
Reserves: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Quinn Roux, Jack Conan, Kieran Marmion, Johnny Sexton, Jordan Larmour.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (RSA)