It was Matt O’Connor who suggested some weeks ago Ireland needed to beat one of the two southern hemisphere sides this month if they were to be considered a serious World Cup contender in 12 months’ time.
That happened when Joe Schmidt’s side accounted for a heavily-tipped South African side that subsequently went on to beat England. Now O’Connor has challenged the Irish team to back that up against his native Australia.
“They pushed the All Blacks very hard (last year) and they got a well-deserved win, under a lot of pressure, against South Africa. The consistency will be important. The home ground advantage is huge in Dublin and they need to cash in on that this weekend,” the Leinster boss explained.
O’Connor is always an interested observer of Ireland games given the volume of Leinster players on duty and, though there was 10 involved against Georgia on Sunday, most of the post-mortem focused on one.
He highlighted Ian Madigan’s control of the game against a “pretty awkward” Georgian side and remarked again on how the player has been deprived of more game time at 10 with his province due to injuries.
“It’s always been about getting the best 15 guys on the pitch at stages this year and, thankfully, he plays very well in a number of positions. He’s done very well at 12 and at 15 for us. Just with the bodies that we have, it’s what we’ve had to do to get through. From that end, it’s pleasing that he hasn’t played that much at 10 (for Leinster), but he can still put out a quality performance like he did (for Ireland). That’s the most pleasing aspect.
“He’s learning lessons and still putting out quality performances, which is very positive.”
Shane Jennings, Jordi Murphy, Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney have shaken off injuries and returned to training ahead of Sunday’s Guinness PRO12 visit to Treviso. Injuries continue to take a toll, however. Prop Ed Byrne is out for six months with an ACL injury suffered against Edinburgh in October and that has prompted the signing of Jamie Hagan from London on a three-month contract.
Hagan returns to the club where he made 42 appearances as cover at tighthead due to the continued absence of Mike Ross on Ireland duties and Marty Moore who isn’t expected back to full fitness until the New Year.
Hagan, who has one senior Ireland cap, moved to London Irish two summers ago, but has played only 13 minutes for the club this season having appeared 26 times during his first campaign when he also got two tries.
“He hasn’t played as much as he would have liked,” said O’Connor. “I don’t know the reasons for that. He wants to play. With the opportunities he could have in our environment, it is a win-win for everybody. He’ll certainly get some rugby with us in the short-term. The huge attraction is he knows the environment and the guys. He has played a lot of top-class rugby and it is very difficult to find blokes who fit that profile on short notice.”
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