Ireland boss Joe Schmidt has thrown down the gauntlet to his Six Nations champions to emulate the heroes of 1979 by winning a Test series in Australia when they face the Wallabies for a third and decisive time on Saturday.
Peter O’Mahony’s side levelled the series at one apiece in Melbourne last Saturday with a spirited bounce back from an opening Test defeat in Brisbane seven days earlier. It reaped a 26-21 victory at AAMI Park on the 39th anniversary of Ireland’s series-clinching win at the Sydney Cricket Ground when Fergus Slattery’s side won 9-3 having won the first Test 27-12 at Ballymore in Brisbane.
Ollie Campbell had been the hero of the tour with his goal-kicking exploits, contributing 28 of his side’s 36 points over the two matches.
Campbell met with Schmidt and the Ireland touring party before the Grand Slam winners departed for Australia and the head coach revealed their meeting had impressed upon him the importance of picking a side to win the series this weekend as much as developing strength in depth ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
Schmidt has already exposed the likes of fly-half Joey Carbery and hookers Rob Herring and Niall Scannell to starts against tier-one rivals Australia as well as handing a Test debut to Munster-bound lock/flanker Tadhg Beirne but he said there was no preconceived selection plan for Saturday’s third and final Test at Allianz Park, particularly now there is an opportunity to achieve something “a little bit special”.
“It was kind of more like we will see how it will go after one (Test),” Schmidt said.
“We knew there were (selection) risks that we took in the first Test, but if we did not take those risks, then you will never know. What we didn’t want to get to, as a coaching staff, was to be a year down the track and still not know (in terms of the World Cup).
“So that was part of it and that will continue to be a part of it but balancing that is an opportunity that is a little bit special.
“Now it is a little bit of a challenge, for this modern team, can they do it? I guess in a week’s time we will know.”
Scrum-half Conor Murray emphasised the current team’s incentive to make some history of their own by emulating the 1979 side.
“That’s a thing that is there and people are aware of it, but on the other side this team’s mentality is different,” Murray said.
“We came down here and we were really annoyed last week at our performance. We could have snuck a win, but our performance wasn’t good enough.
“They’re the standards we’re used to.
“This week, we had a look at the game and the areas we can improve on and did that. Coming into a game like today, I knew we were going to be in a better place, that we were going to play better.”
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