Simon Lewis, Sydney
Sean Cronin sat out Ireland’s captain’s run at Allianz Stadium on Friday to cause some concern ahead of Saturday morning’s series-deciding final Test against Australia.
Ireland’s most experienced hooker in the absence of the injured Rory Best is set to start for the first time on this end of season tour but was rested for light training session at the match venue following a heavy workload the previous day.
Niall Scannell has been named on the replacements bench as back-up hooker, the Munster front-rower having made an impressive start for Ireland last week in the 26-21 second-Test victory which levelled the series following an opening loss in Brisbane.
Ireland’s third hooker on tour is Rob Herring, who also impressed when handed the number two jersey for that series opener at Suncorp Stadium two weeks ago.
Ireland will take another much-changed team into the final game of the 2017-18 campaign with skipper Peter O’Mahony moved from blindside flanker to openside for his 50th Ireland appearance since a Test debut against Italy in February 2012.
Asked when the last time he had played at number seven was, O’Mahony, 28, said: “I don't know, actually. It's been a while but at this level it doesn't change a huge amount. CJ (Stander, who moves from No.8 to blindside to accommodate the inclusion of Jack Conan) would be well able to play seven as well.
“It changes a couple of small little roles but it's something I was comfortable with from earlier on in the week
A 50th Ireland cap for the back rower who captained the British & Irish Lions in the first Test against New Zealand exactly a year ago on Sunday, is something the Corkman said he could not have comprehended when he made his debut six years ago.
“It's hard to sit back and think about it. That's not to say I'm taking it for granted, it was a dream to get my first cap and to think I'd be sitting here getting 50 is not something I could have comprehended on that day. It's certainly a huge honour.”
Nor is O’Mahony taking for granted anything but a big response from the Wallabies following their defeat in Melbourne a week ago.
“One of their biggest assets is their ability to play rugby and to strike wide.
And 30-35% possession and three tries is a very impressive stat. We know how dangerous they are with the ball. As a result I think our defence needs to step up a notch.”
So too Ireland’s maul defence after the Wallabies drove the tourists back over their own line to earn a penalty try from referee Paul Williams at AAMI Park last Saturday.
“It's something you certainly don't plan for, it's something we pride ourselves on.
Look, you're playing against one of the best packs in the world. Sometimes these things happen.
“The quality of players they have up front is second to none, you try and plan for things; sometimes they don't work and sometimes you're just outdone in a lineout or a maul.
It certainly is an area where we need to improve, I think our maul defence in general and our lineout, defence and attack - we were out-performed in all three areas last week.
“So it's something we really pride ourselves on and we want a better performance there.”