As Ireland lick their All Blacks-inflicted wounds, Leinster lock Mike McCarthy warns a focused Australia will also pose an imposing physical challenge, with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika calling the Ireland clash the biggest game of his side’s tour.
During McCarthy’s Connacht days, he faced Cheika when the Sydney native was Leinster coach, and is familiar with his abrasive style.
“He’s real big on his physicality. He obviously wants them to be extremely physical and front up. I suppose like most teams, they want to win up front. He will be looking for them to have a strong set-piece,” McCarthy remarked at Leinster HQ.
Australia narrowly beat France 25-23 last Saturday, but McCarthy — who won 19 Ireland caps — expects them to improve on that showing.
“I think Australia struggled a bit against France. I didn’t watch the game but I heard they struggled a bit in the scrum, so I’m sure that will be a big focus for them going into the Ireland game. The Ireland team have had a really strong set-piece.”
Australia have lost to the All Blacks three times this year, but followed October’s controversial defeat in Auckland with wins over Wales, Scotland and France. Speaking at Australia’s Conrad Hotel base in Dublin yesterday, Cheika narrowed the focus on Ireland.
“For all teams coming from the southern hemisphere, we’ve all had tough games coming over here — all four of us. For us, it’s just about resetting at zero today, saying ‘this is going to be the biggest game of the tour, without a doubt’ and getting stuck into it.”
Cheika admitted he hadn’t yet seen Ireland’s clashes with New Zealand in full, but was impressed with what he has taken from highlights.
“That’s not my job really (watching the opposition). The other boys have — Stephen Larkham, Nathan (Grey), Mick (Byrne) and Mario (Ledesma). They do all that. I try to concentrate on our team. I’ve seen highlights obviously. They look like they were good encounters.
“What I can glean from it all is that we’ve got our work cut out for us because they got closer to them in their two games than we did on the three games. It’s going to be a pretty tough battle.
“I think it’s clear that (the All Blacks) are the standard-bearer of the game right now. From the Chicago game, it worked out for Ireland. One of the things that’s really been interesting, is we’ve got a lot of new lads on our trip. Getting them to learn how difficult it is to win over here… the northern hemisphere teams, buoyed by their home crowds, they’re very, very difficult to beat. It’s a real challenge.”
While Cheika’s time at Leinster had come to an end by the time McCarthy arrived in 2013, the province’s scrum coach, John Fogarty, did enjoy two memorable seasons under the 49-year-old.
When you consider that he guided the Blues towards their maiden Heineken Cup success in 2009, it is easy to see why Cheika has been credited with changing the culture within the Leinster set-up, and Fogarty can see a lot of similarities between him and his successor Joe Schmidt.
“A lot has been said about how Cheiks came in and changed the culture within Leinster. From one season to the next, himself and [Mike] Brewer did a great job with Leinster. In Leinster, there was changes happening anyway with the playing group,” Fogarty stated.
“He certainly put his mark on the team. They were very abrasive, very direct. Weren’t going to get managed in games physically. It stood Leinster very, very well. He left a big mark on Leinster rugby. I’m sure a lot of people here will be glad to see him back.
“They [Cheika and Schmidt] are incredibly competitive. They want to win. They are very intense and that’s in every interaction you will have with them. They are well-prepared for everything they do, for when they present to players, for match day. They are very competitive people. They are the two similarities between them.”
Cheika rested several of his first choice players against the French — “all of them who have had big loads this year” — though refused to say whether he had prioritised the Ireland clash.
“I think we’re just starting to get to our proper fitness. Last week was not just about breaking guys, it was also about giving other guys an opportunity.
“Which one was the priority is only in my head. But there was definitely a combination of both factors. It’s just a choice we made and they’ll have to get themselves back into training with the team quick smart.
“They trained Thursday with the team last week, and back into the swing of it quick smart to get ready for this weekend.
“Get their heads, more than anything, fresh and ready to go for the game.”
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