Ireland can play, but can they tour?

Nick Turnbull Roar Guru

By Nick Turnbull, Nick Turnbull is a Roar Guru

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    There is a certain nervous wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth by Australian fans who can’t stomach the idea of a repeat of 2016 with the much-anticipated series between the Wallabies and European champions, Ireland, approaching.

    Who could forget witnessing our beloved Wallabies getting their collective backsides handed to them by the old foe of England, three-zip, in a historic series long be remembered for the wrong reasons?

    This formidable Irish side, who recently have conquered all in their way when you consider Leinster’s emphatic performances in Europe have – to a degree – justified Australian fears of seeing the Wallabies yet again put to the sword by a northern hemisphere powerhouse.

    But to quote the great American president Franklin D. Roosevelt in his inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

    A wonderfully abstract statement perhaps, but in context of this forthcoming series I asked myself a simple question; I know the Irish can play, but can they tour?

    History would suggest the Irish don’t play particularly well on extended tours against the same opponent.

    Interestingly, in the rich history of Irish rugby, they have only ever attempted a three-test series tour twice – to New Zealand in 2012 and South Africa in 2016.

    There is no shame in touring New Zealand in 2012 and losing three-nil against a side that had recently won a Rugby World Cup.

    As Australians know all too well, New Zealand is an awfully difficult place to win. That aside, there is shame in losing the final test of that tour 60-0.

    Despite Ireland not being coached by Joe Schmidt, they had a very good team with names like Rob Kearney, Cian Healy, Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahoney and Sean Cronin. All of whom will be touring Australia this June.

    Ireland's fly half Jonny Sexton kicks a penalty

    (AFP PHOTO / IAN MACNICOL)

    The three-test tour of South Africa in 2016 got off to a better start for Schmidt’s men who won the opening encounter with the Springboks at Newlands, putting forth a dominant performance, winning 26-20 despite losing their own South African CJ Stander to a dubious red card early on.

    Yet Ireland could not sustain the effort for the length of the tour and lost the final two tests, 32-26, in Johannesburg and, 19-13, in Port Elizabeth.

    The interesting thing about the Johannesburg test is that Ireland was actually winning that test match 19-3 at intermission, but wilted in the second half.

    This occurred only two years ago, featuring players such as Robbie Henshaw, Conor Murray, Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Quinn Roux, Devin Toner, Rob Henderson, James Kilcoyne and Kieran Marmion.

    Since then, there is no doubt Ireland have improved and dominated tournament rugby when they play against singular opposition and return home after each away test.

    However, touring rugby is a different equation altogether. In the summer of 2017, the Irish toured the USA and Japan and had emphatic victories.

    But dear friends, there simply is no cogent evidence to support a hypothesis that under Joe Schmidt, his team can win a three-test series away from home against a tier-one nation.

    In fact, I would suggest such touring for the Irish is presenting as an exposed ‘Achilles heel’.

    If Australia can rise to the occasion in Brisbane on June 9th and come away with the win – will the men from the Emerald Isle have the juice to go the distance for the rest of the series?

    For star players touring Australia, they are nearing the end of what has been arguably the most intense 12 months of rugby.

    Out of the touring squad, no less than eight of them toured with the 2017 British and Irish Lions. They then prepared and played a brilliant Six Nations Tournament.

    Furthermore, at least 17 of the squad are part of the Leinster unit who dominated the domestic scene in Europe of late.

    Yet the stark reality is that this team have played an awful lot of rugby leading me to wonder if they can maintain a level of intensity and excellence for an extended period of time to ultimately reach a zenith Irish rugby have never reached before – a three-test series away from home.

    The last time the Irish came close to a three-test tour of Australia was in 1979.

    Skippered by the legendary flanker Fergus Slattery and accompanied by other Irish greats Ollie Campbell, Tony Ward, Willie Duggan, Ciaran Fitzgerald, Mike Gibson, Moss Keane, Gerry McLoughlin and Phil Orr, they defeated the Wallabies twice and nearly won every match on tour.

    Eventually, they stumbled when they were defeated by a Sydney Team that featured a young Mark Ella.

    Ominously, Slattery was quoted after a test, “We prepared well. It was our aim to contain them in the loose, and most of the game we had them going backwards, or sideways, perhaps more sideways.

    “We knew they were dangerous on the loose ball, particularly that back row of Shaw, Cornelson and Loane.”

    Such a game plan would succeed today, but can the Irish get the Wallabies to go backwards and sideways for three tests?

    Have Ireland prepared well enough? Could this side compete with the likes of David Pocock and Michael Hooper for loose balls?

    For either team to win this series, they can take heed to what Irish Coach Noel Murphy said about his players of 1979 and apply it themselves.

    He said, “We might not be the best rugby team to come to Australia, but in terms of discipline, courage and character, I’m sure there have been none better.”

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    The Crowd Says (41)

    • Roar Guru

      June 2nd 2018 @ 3:31am
      Derm McCrum said | June 2nd 2018 @ 3:31am | ! Report

      So Ireland have twice won and lost tours in Australia.

      3-test tours only started globally in 2012.

      The series against NZ was a predictable as it was lamentable in its scorelines. Playing a three-test series in NZ at the fag end of a very long RWC season is the definition of madness.

      They repeated this with their tour to SA in 2016 when their 3 tests were their 15/16/17th tests of the season.

      This time, they’ve had a break after the Lions and their playing time managed better except for Aki, Henderson, and Toner.

      For all that, anyone predicting 3-0 to Ireland belongs with the same group predicting a clean sweep to NZ on the Lions tour last year.

    • Roar Guru

      June 2nd 2018 @ 3:46am
      Derm McCrum said | June 2nd 2018 @ 3:46am | ! Report

      Ireland won extended tours in 1967 and 1979. They lost in 1994 and 1999.

      Three test tours only started globally in 2012.
      NZ and SA tours were in RWC years at end of long season. These won’t happen in the future.

      They won 2 test tour in Argentina in 2014 as well as the Tier Two series against USA/Japan with development side in June 2017

      Lions tour has less an effect this time as it was at end of last season. Most key players had a break before start at end Sept.

      Murray is the one most susceptible to injury/break down.

      Anyone predicting a 3-0 win to Ireland belongs in the same group predicting a clean sweep to New Zealand in the Lions tour.

      Like the Lions tests, it should be tough and much more closely fought, with either side capable of edging it.

      • Roar Guru

        June 2nd 2018 @ 4:59am
        Nick Turnbull said | June 2nd 2018 @ 4:59am | ! Report

        Good morning Derm,

        well its a balmy 9 degrees in Brisbane as I tap the key board dressed in my tartan ‘PJ’ pants and Wallaby jersey whilst grasping a hot cup of Irish breakfast tea. All bases covered!

        I would almost give the Irish a moral 3 test victory of Australia in 1979 when you consider they defeated a very, very good Queensland side that had the likes of Roger Gould, Paddy Batch, Andrew Slack, Geoff Shaw, Brendan Moon and Paul McLean in the back line. Coupled with the likes of Loane, Shaw, Cornelson, Pilecki, Horton, Peter McLean and Duncan Hall in the forwards it gives context to what a good side that Irish team of 79 were. Don’t forget most of those Queensland players were involved in the Wallaby defeat of Wales and New Zealand in 78 and 79 and most if not all are greats of Australian Rugby.

        Its interesting to me that, that Sydney team that did defeat Ireland in 1979, I think were coached by Charlie Crittle, the greatest Wallaby coach we never had, did so with Mark Ella at 10. I recall Ireland went on to enjoy some Five Nations success in the early 1980’s and when the Wallabies played the Irish on the now famous 1984 Grand Slam tour, the only real difference between the sides was a bit of Mark Ella magic. For memory you blokes had us on the ropes there for a while but an Ella drop goal or two and try got us the win.

        “Three test tours only started globally in 2012.” Perhaps for Ireland, but Australia started much earlier than that. in fact the Wallabies had a four test tour of South Africa in 1963; A 3 test tour of New Zealand in 1978 and again in 1986. I am sure there have been others. My point is that historically such tours have not been a huge issue for us. But whilst the Irish have populated the world, they have not toured with any serious success as a collective rugby side. There is no DNA to dig back into, no reference points or past players to obtain insight from from a complete Irish perspective only on how to play such tours and win.

        There are no doubts about the quality of your team but there are doubt about their ability to tour.

        • June 2nd 2018 @ 5:32am
          Taylorman said | June 2nd 2018 @ 5:32am | ! Report

          Yes those are good points. As Irish, they never had the big tours the Lions had, and the Ws, Boks and ABs have had extensive experience touring. Weve been playing the AIs for years, four tests min at the the end of our season rvery years since. 2000 odd?

          Even on this tour they dont have the clutter of mid week matches they used to have.

          But it doesnt mean they wont tour well either, theres just little precedent.

          For this series they really should win 3-0 on paper. Oz lost the BC last year, the RC and were humbled terribly in the AIs, where Ireland have ten plus wins on the roll, a 6N grand slam, and besides all that, are playing great rugby.

          Whats there to suggest it shouldnt be 3-0? Well, its in your title.

          The scenario has never been better for Ireland and if they cant win 3-0 here, they never will.

          They might….Im just backing Oz to upset them.

          • Roar Guru

            June 2nd 2018 @ 5:41am
            Nick Turnbull said | June 2nd 2018 @ 5:41am | ! Report

            Morning mate,

            Despite losing Rory Best on the eve of the tour I think this Irish side is the most formidable to embark on a southern tour and that is why we on this side of the Tasman are nervous. But as always in our nature, I’m optimistic that if we can play to our best we could get a series win over these blokes.

            For me Australia simply has to muscle up, up front if we are any chance. I like the squad Michael Cheika has selected and don’t think success pivots one way or the other on the Pete Samu selection saga. Personally I’d put it behind us and pick Lopeti Timani and get on with it. Its an unwanted issue, but one Australian Rugby does not need to exacerbate. We need to focus on the the team we do have available and how they can get a win over Ireland.

          • Roar Guru

            June 2nd 2018 @ 2:25pm
            Cadfael said | June 2nd 2018 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

            I saw them in ’67. They got flogged around the park in the lead up games but they won the gamethat counted. They won their second series here in the 70s but that has been about it. looking forward to the series.

        • Roar Guru

          June 2nd 2018 @ 6:30am
          Derm McCrum said | June 2nd 2018 @ 6:30am | ! Report

          I agree completely with your premise. Ireland don’t tour well. Comparisons on paper mean very little.

          I’ve stated previously that Australia could win this series 3-0 with maybe Ireland nicking a test.

          Should be interesting to watch.

          • June 2nd 2018 @ 8:38am
            Fionn said | June 2nd 2018 @ 8:38am | ! Report

            I see what you’re doing there 😛 .

            After the England series and Spring Tour last year I will be happy if the Wallabies win at least one match.

        • Roar Rookie

          June 2nd 2018 @ 11:16am
          IrelandsCall said | June 2nd 2018 @ 11:16am | ! Report

          Great read Nick. I will be in the stadium on Saturday next barracking for the boys in green. Looking forward to close exciting contest and the amazing atmosphere of over 45, 000 Aussies and Irish trying to out sing each other! Also it’s my young fellas first international so cant wait! By the way, if you are not drinking Barry’s tea, you are not drinking Irish tea! 2-1 Ireland!

          • Roar Guru

            June 3rd 2018 @ 10:56am
            Nick Turnbull said | June 3rd 2018 @ 10:56am | ! Report

            Thanks mate. I will be there too with a 6’8 Irishman from Longford with red hair whose name is Patrick. You can’t miss us!

    • June 2nd 2018 @ 4:03am
      Taylorman said | June 2nd 2018 @ 4:03am | ! Report

      ‘Anyone predicting a 3-0 win to Ireland belongs in the same group predicting a clean sweep to New Zealand in the Lions tour.’

      Umm, not really, ABs have swept the Lions 3 and 4 nil previously, Ireland have never won 3-0 anywhere, ever, so one at least has a solid precedent, the other does not.

      • Roar Guru

        June 2nd 2018 @ 6:31am
        Derm McCrum said | June 2nd 2018 @ 6:31am | ! Report

        I meant a clean sweep as in all of the games.

    • June 2nd 2018 @ 6:11am
      nickbrisbane said | June 2nd 2018 @ 6:11am | ! Report

      Wilting in the second half at altitude in Joburg happens to a lot of teams

    • June 2nd 2018 @ 6:28am
      Brisvegas said | June 2nd 2018 @ 6:28am | ! Report

      Ireland are favourites to win either 2-1 or 3 zip and deservedly so. They have depth and a very good coaching team. The real question is what are the Wallabies bringing to the table. Pretty much the same as before coupled with a struggling coaching team. Australia have anothet chance to punch above their weight and Brisbane may be there best opportunity first up. Lose the Brisbane match and the Wallabies will be struggling to not lose 3 zip.

      • Roar Guru

        June 2nd 2018 @ 7:00am
        taylorman said | June 2nd 2018 @ 7:00am | ! Report

        Yes thats the biggest factor for me. Its the first time a northern single national side will tour as firm favourites. England caught them by surprise after the poor World cup and the 6N is an unreliable guide for vs SH form.

        That sees a mindset unfamiliar to the Wallabies and is something tangible for Cheika to work with. ‘Everyone says we’re going to lose’ kinda thing.

        For the Wallabies its simple…two things need to happen.

        – the usual top performers…Beale, Hooper, Genia, Folau need to bring their best, and limit their areas of weakness to a minimum.

        – several new or recent players need to step up…at least one needs to join the elite group permanently by the end of the season. No ones done that since Cheika took the position up.

      • June 2nd 2018 @ 7:01am
        mbp said | June 2nd 2018 @ 7:01am | ! Report

        on the money brisv.

      • Roar Rookie

        June 2nd 2018 @ 9:58am
        Red Block said | June 2nd 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        Well said BV.
        For me this is the real question that is going to be answered in the Irish series, can Cheika and co bring something new and different to the table?
        Atm it would appear everyone knows how the WBs are going to play and to be fair we have seen nothing new since 2015.
        Even Cheika admits ‘there is no Plan B, the plan is to do Plan A better.’
        However the squad contains the usual Cheika favourites, so I’m not hopeful.

    • June 2nd 2018 @ 6:52am
      mbp said | June 2nd 2018 @ 6:52am | ! Report

      looking at form from the last year the irish have been amazing. they have been the dominant european team…. a step above england that humbled us 2 years ago.

      ireland have been disaplined and clinical in the 6 nations and leinster and munster have been dominating european club rugby of late.

      the irish players will come here with a settled team with a recent winning culture and with all players physically conditioned, confident and in good form…. the only question mark will be if they come here a bit tired and jaded.

      if australias forwards can not match the irish forwards for the full 80 minutes it will be a long three tests for australia. if if the aussies make too many simple mistakes and keep turning the ball over it will be a long three tests. if the gane is played mainly in australian territory it will be a long three tests for australia. if the aussies are not disaplined it will be a long three tests for australia. basically the irish kickers are deadly and will quickly put us behind the 8 ball.

      since the last workd cup…australia has played inconsistent, ill displined and mistake ridden rugby…. with too many minutes in their own territory…. the irish have been growing year by year and are now very new zealand like.

      you are nieve to think ireland dont tour well and this will continue. they are hungry for a world cup. i see a 3 nil result to the irish as a distinct possibility.

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