Dan Leavy has a face you don’t want to argue with. Every crease, crevice, and scar speaks of a personality which doesn’t take a backward step, neither physically or metaphorically.
The Irish tour to America last summer energised me in a way I hadn’t foreseen, the new green wave confident and determined and hungry to get better and work harder.
No-one typified this more than the 24-year-old Leavy.
In Melbourne tomorrow, sparks will fly between the opensides. David Pocock doesn’t give an inch, Leavy won’t budge for anyone.
The pair of them see brick walls as obstacles you knock down not circumnavigate.
Leavy hasn’t much regard for his body or his wellbeing. He looks battered at 24, but he’s just getting started.
Last Saturday In Brisbane, we watched with a mix of frustration and admiration as Pocock did what Pocock does. The Scrapper. Poacher. Menace. Pest.
He’s done it against the best teams in the world. Australia were winning collisions in Brisbane, which made himself and Hooper’s job that much easier. But it’s going to be a seismic confrontation with Leavy in the mix tomorrow.
If Ireland’s players are realistic about the extent of their goals, then they are challenging to be the best side in the world. If so, the bottom line is they need to be winning tomorrow.
You lose in Melbourne, and that creates tiny fissures through which questions seep. Losing the series in Australia would be a major disappointment.
You can have all the excuses you want, but this team has never resorted to that. Well done to Andy Farrell for knocking the tiredness issue on the head this week.
They’re managed exceptionally well, they are all centrally contracted players. It comes down to mindset at this stage.
Training’s been saucy this week. It would have to be. The first test loss and changing half the starters suggests that last Monday, everyone felt they had a sneaky chance of playing.
Which is rare in the Schmidt era because it’s a group coming off 12 wins on the bounce. Ergo, the selection is relatively closed.
Facing a Tier One nation, it’s rare to effect such drastic change, but it’s not the number of changes that intrigues — it’s the little nuances within.
Joe Schmidt doesn’t do reactionary selection. There isn’t a thing that the Irish coach hasn’t fully thought through.
Eight changes might sound like a lot, but it’s in the context of the first test selection, which took a number of people by surprise.
With Leinster contesting and winning two cup finals in May, the bulk of their representation was always going to play two of the three tests.
Schmidt called them in for the second and the third even if a lot of us thought Ireland would go for it in the first.
And they did go hard at it. It’s too easy to overlook the fact that both sides could have won last Saturday.
Kudos for a brilliant bit of captaincy from Michael Hooper when it was a one-point game. The Wallabies went for the seven-pointer to stick a fork in Ireland. Game over.
I was sitting in the stand thinking ‘penalty in front of the posts, take it, and move Ireland out beyond a penalty’, because Stander’s line break aside, the visitors rarely looked like scoring a try.
Joe’s selection for AAMI Park creates a nice debate about who his starters are.
If Andrew Conway plays well tomorrow, he is probably going to play in the final test.
As good as Jacob Stockdale has done in the Six Nations, he’s not of an age to be a locked down Irish regular.
Bundee Aki has a slight ankle niggle but the options in midfield from management’s viewpoint are delightful.
Same goes for hooker. Going with Niall Scannell tomorrow looks like a Greg Feek call.
Joe puts full faith in his coaches and the scrum is Greg’s area of expertise. Ireland’s scrum has been good, but there’s evidently a concern with a size comparison at hooker of 100kgs versus Australia’s 116-118kgs.
Scannell weighs in around 110kgs. Management were disappointed with the decisive penalty against Ireland when the scrum was wheeled five metres from the Irish line.
Though Sean Cronin was hooking at that stage, it’s not a reflection on him. Sean mightn’t like it, but his value is his impact and if I was the coach I’d be of the same view.
He is a great foil for Rory Best, who will be on the pitch for 50-60 minutes, but Cronin is superb at attacking a tiring defence, coming off the back of a lineout drive, coming off a few specials in lineouts, and in phase play.
Best is still No 1, he’s the captain. Rob Herring was very impressive last Saturday and what one must interpret from Scannell’s selection is that tomorrow is the Munster man’s opportunity to either put himself in serious World Cup contention or write himself out of the script.
It’s that black and white. There aren’t many games or opportunities for third or fourth choice options in key positions to stake a claim ahead of Japan — and I say that knowing Joe wouldn’t countenance putting such labels or ranking on players.
There’s a 180-degree turnaround in terms of incentive. Ireland are frustrated. You can see that in Conor Murray. He looks a bit flustered. It’s never a good sign when he’s getting rattled.
But Australia got under Ireland’s skin last Saturday and Murray personified as much. He’s like Dan Carter, he doesn’t do stress. He’s normally unflappable.
Watching from the stands in the final minutes, the Wallaby bench caught my eye. They were hollering and high-fiving like they’d closed out a win against the All Blacks.
I found that a little surprising in one respect, but they needed the win. They put a lot of pressure on themselves.
The gun was put to their head and the Cheika mantra was obvious: These Irish boys don’t respect you, they think they can beat you with half a team.
Cheika will have them better again for Melbourne with another week’s camp under their belts and fatigue certainly won’t be an issue.
Their physicality in Brisbane was impressive. Kurtley Beale’s running game and pass selection was excellent, and Israel Folau is a joy to watch, worth the entry fee alone.
The kicking on both sides will be better on Saturday. Ireland won’t be kicking down the middle from kick-offs.
As good as Rob Kearney is in the air, if a guy is half a foot taller and has half a metre more spring, it’s not a good idea going there, even if you want to get yourself into the game.
Pick your battles. It isn’t always smart to hammer the hammer.
If Folau was born in Glenbeigh, he’d be some foil for Donaghy. I’ve kept some clips from his fielding last Saturday, the gaelic football-style, over his head catch.
We have a lad in the Crusaders, Seta Tamanivalu, who does something similar, with shovels for hands. It’s the next progression — wingers catching the ball over their heads.
If it was any other player making it look so ridiculously easy, every franchise would be at it, because it’s Folau, everybody just dismissing it, like ‘ah shure, he’s an athletic freak’.
Anticipate too a stellar cameo from Joey Carbery in the second test. I hope he was deeply satisfied with his performance last Saturday.
He was brave and sharp and had Ireland in a winning position when he departed. That’s always in an out-half’s subconscious.
The leap he has made, starting away to a world force, is huge. He is itching for gametime tomorrow. He knows he can do it now and will look to challenge himself (not force it, though) ever more in Melbourne.
Johnny Sexton also has the incentive to put down a marker. And because Carbery is such a good footballer, he is going to be accommodated somewhere, be it 10, 12 or 15.
Have no doubt, all the backs are acutely aware of same. He’s a great option and Joe likes great options.
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