Simon Lewis, Brisbane
Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony has backed fly-half Joey Carbery to take the huge opportunity handed to the 22-year-old when he starts the first Test against Australia on Saturday morning.
The three-Test series gets underway at Suncorp Stadium at 11:05am Irish time when the northern hemisphere’s Grand Slam champions face the 2015 World Cup finalists with Munster-bound Carbery given the reins by head coach Joe Schmidt in the hope he can steer Ireland towards a record-breaking 13th consecutive international win.
Ireland will have an insurance policy with first-choice playmaker Johnny Sexton available from the bench but O’Mahony has been impressed by the ease in which Carbery, capped 10 times since his November 2016 debut off the bench against New Zealand in Chicago, has taken control of the training week ahead of his 11th cap.
“It’s been great. He’s an incredible footballer, I don’t have to tell you that,” the Ireland skipper said of his future Munster club-mate. “He’s really grown into that leadership role.
“I suppose over the past two years he’s been getting better and better and he’s a big character in the squad, which you need from your 10.
O’Mahony has targeted slowing Australia’s ruck speed as the key to stopping the Wallabies potent backline from cutting loose against them. Ireland’s blindside flanker anointed the Wallabies back row featuring David Pocock and opposing skipper Michael Hooper probably the best in the world.
With a highly dangerous back three of Marika Koroibete, Dane Haylett-Petty and Israel Folau feeding of quick ball from their inside halves, O’Mahony believes Ireland must quickly get on top of the breakdown battle if the tourists are to nullify the attacking threat.
“It starts with their set-piece, which has been very strong for them, scrum and lineout, maul, their strike plays have been very impressive and if you don’t stop certainly their breakdown speed, if you’re on the back end of that it’s very hard to stop when they do get very, very quick ball and that’s when they’re looking for the width of their game.
“We certainly know it’s an area we’re going to have to contain and stop their strike plays.”
Slowing down Australian ruck ball is easier said than done when Pocock and Hooper are so effective at the breakdown and O’Mahony added: “Every year we come up against Australia, they've gotten better and the last time they played here (in Brisbane) they beat the All Blacks,” O’Mahony said following Ireland’s captain’s run at Suncorp Stadium on Friday. “The physicality they showed that day was second to no team in the world.
“I think their breakdown threat but not just that. I think their ability to carry ball, their general rugby ability is probably second to none, their passing skills.
“You know, two complete rugby players, they’ve been around for a long, long time yet Michael Hooper is only 26, 27 and he has (79) caps and Pocock (66 Tests), so the experience that they have.
“And not just the two of them, a big chunk of that Australian squad played in the World Cup final not that long ago so they’ve huge amount of consistency here and experience and that’s something that will certainly stand to them tomorrow.”