Ireland may be on the rise but Jamie Heaslip has warned his side face another massive challenge when Australia come to the Aviva Stadium this Saturday.
Joe Schmidt’s team moved up to fourth in the World rankings yesterday, despite losing 21-9 to table-toppers New Zealand in that bruising encounter, ousting South Africa from the top four after the Springboks’ recent misery hit new lows in Florence last Saturday with their first defeat to Italy.
The latest rankings rejig leaves Ireland going into their final Test of 2016 against the third-placed Wallabies looking for another big win to complete a productive November international window on a high having started the month by claiming a first win over the All Blacks.
Heaslip, who put in an outstanding shift at No.8 in Saturday’s return match with the world champions, believes Ireland are stronger for their disappointments and that the latest injury setbacks from an intensely physical contest mean the onus is again on the next wave of players within the squad to step up the mark.
With both Johnny Sexton (hamstring) and Robbie Henshaw (concussion) ruled out of Saturday’s Guinness Series finale and Schmidt waiting on Rob Kearney and CJ Stander completing their return to play protocols following head knocks, less experienced operators Paddy Jackson, Garry Ringrose and Josh van der Flier are going to have to hit the ground running again.
A victory over Australia, Heaslip agreed, will therefore be hugely important for the squad’s development.
“If you wanna think down the line to three years’ time, we need a (World Cup) squad of 32 players who can slot in and out and the standard doesn’t drop at whatever level,” the Ireland vice- captain said.
“It’s a physical game, people get hurt and we need people to step in and out and if you go in thinking you’re always picking from a full deck... I wish it was like that, but I’m playing this game a long time, to know it isn’t.
“Injuries give opportunities for other guys to step up and I think we’ve seen it as recently as South Africa (in June), lads stepping up, as recently as Chicago, lads stepping up, last week stepping up and again, against New Zealand, stepping up.
“It gives lads opportunities, that experience at the top level, and that can only be good for the team. And that’s what I mean, a victory would be great for the squad because it’s a young squad - and I include myself in that! - and it would be great for the lads to get some return, but there’s a lot of work to be put in to even give ourselves a chance.”
With two wins from three games already this month, Schmidt believes Ireland are already ahead of the ledger given the win in Chicago, but Heaslip is determined to get back to winning ways.
“It would be nice, I won’t lie to you. I don’t like losing, I don’t think anyone in our squad likes losing. If they did, they’d be getting a boot up the arse. It’d be great.
“I really do think that this group is one of the best groups I’ve been involved in, and has been building for quite some time.
“I keep going back to 2013, having some lows that season with this group, I know there’s some additions and some guys who were there who aren’t here anymore, but the core of the group now is there.
“I think they’ve learned from that and they’ve learned from different games and learned from the New Zealand game in 2013 and the Australia game in 2013 and kind of building from that.
“I think this group is pretty special and it would be good for us to get the win, but a lot of things have to go our way in order for that to happen. These guys they’re playing some good rugby. We’ve got a massive challenge ahead of us, but that always makes it exciting and makes it that little bit better.”
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