The sense of frustration at the game that got away from them last weekend as New Zealand rebounded from their Chicago defeat with a 21-9 win has been shared by players and management alike in the Ireland camp with forwards coach Simon Easterby yesterday explaining there was a determination to improve on their effort against the world champions.
The fear would be that Ireland’s month-long international window will shut on Saturday at the conclusion of their final Autumn Series Test with the same feeling of disappointment that accompanied Joe Schmidt’s squad home from South Africa last June.
Just as Ireland began November with a milestone win over the All Blacks in Chicago, the Irish got their summer tour under way with a first victory over the Springboks in South Africa, only to lose a commanding lead in the second Test a week later in Johannesburg before the home side edged the final encounter and took the series.
While Saturday’s loss in Dublin took some of the gloss of the heroics of Soldier Field, Easterby believes Ireland have a great chance to atone this weekend against Michael Cheika’s Wallabies, ranked a place above them at third in the world and with the fourth leg of a Grand Slam sweep of Europe at the top of their agenda.
“I guess it’s just about us going out there and delivering some of the things we didn’t do and we felt like we could have done better against New Zealand,” Easterby said. “That means our performance will improve and maybe we’ll take some of those chances, and prevent them from getting opportunities, and taking them as well.”
CJ Stander, Rob Kearney and Simon Zebo will certainly be motivated to prove their fitness to face the Australians having suffered in the intensely physical contest with New Zealand last Saturday.
Easterby declared the trio “are on track” to do so, with back-rower Stander and full-back Kearney set to complete their return to play concussion protocols and wing Zebo conducting modified training so far this week having been withdrawn from the fray with cramp.
With Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw definitely ruled out of this weekend’s final Test of the year, that will come as good news for head coach Schmidt as he prepares to name his side tomorrow — Ultan Dillane, Peter O’Mahony, and Keith Earls also boosting his selection options having resumed training this week after missing the All Blacks game.
Ireland have had mixed fortunes against the Wallabies, losing heavily to the tourists in November 2013 in Schmidt’s second game as boss, then turning the tables the following autumn when Cheika had just taken over as Australia head coach from Ewen McKenzie.
That the Irish will play a side that has bounced back from a poor Rugby Championship with victories over Wales, Scotland and France, just a week after having gone through a punishing 80 minutes with the All Blacks for the second time in three weeks, only heightens the size of the task for the hosts.
“I think it’s exciting in the sense Australia come here with a bit of a bounce,” Easterby said. “They’ve been disappointed in their Rugby Championship results. They’ve come over here, they haven’t changed too much, but they’re playing a brand of rugby which suits their skillset, and that makes them dangerous.
“They came close to getting ahead against New Zealand at half-time, in the last meeting (in October), and they would see this as a real challenge. But we’d see it as a massive challenge as well, and I think maybe the disappointment of last weekend, knowing we pushed the World Champions as close as we did, without getting the results we’d hoped for, we always knew this game was going to be a huge game for us for many reasons. “