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The first Test is on our doorstep and odds suggest that every millimetre earned will be an important one.
The Wallabies can ill afford to bring their usual clunky June form to the series opener, which is a genuine concern after a short turnaround from Super Rugby.
Ireland rightly enter the series as slight favourites to win this weekend. However, as the series progresses and the Wallabies spend time together their combinations will improve. Don’t be surprised if the tables are turned by the third Test in Sydney.
What are the crucial areas for each nation?
1) The defensive lineout
I expect that the Wallabies scrum will be closer to parity with the Irish than many might think. The much bigger area for concern from a Wallabies perspective is the defensive line out of the Irish.
With the Wallabies playing inexperienced hookers and attacking threats like Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau in the backfield, I expect Ireland to kick long and kick for touch.
Any Wallaby nerves or errors at lineout time will be feasted on by the likes of Iain Henderson, James Ryan, and Tadhg Beirne.
But perhaps the most worrying player of all for the Wallabies, who like to throw to the back of the lineout, will be the presence of Munster captain Peter O’Mahony.
O’Mahony is lethal in the defensive lineout and has the wood over any Wallaby backrow option in that space. You have been warned!
2) Turnover transitions
When I say turnover transitions, I mean how quickly the Irish can shift focus from attack to defence should they cough up the ball or relinquish possession to the likes of David Pocock.
The Wallabies will have Will Genia, Beale, and Bernard Foley sniffing around for any opportunities.
With turnovers and kick returns accounting for nearly 50 per cent of possession in the modern game, the Irish will need to be lightning fast on transitions to contain a Wallaby trio that can attack the narrow, midfield, or wide channels within seconds should space be on offer from turnover ball.
1) How they deal with the Irish tactical kicking game
Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton can put the ball on a pin head. When they don’t kick long you can guarantee that their kicks will be contestable.
The Wallabies will need a serious plan to play out of contestable kicks. Winning the ball is one piece of the puzzle.
The aerial battle between Folau and Rob Kearney may well be worth the price of admission alone, but the real clincher will be whether the Wallabies can offload the ball before the tackle or win quick ball at the ensuing breakdown.
If they can do this more often than not it will nullify an important component of the Irish game and give the Wallabies an edge.
If not, the Irish will have time to set their defence and will control the tempo of the next exchanges.
The Wallabies are one of the most penalised teams in world rugby. During the English series in 2016, an interesting comment was made in an exchange between referee and then captain Stephen Moore – ‘If you’re going to attack every breakdown then you’re going to pay a tax for that’.
Despite this, the Wallabies have continued down the same dangerous road for the past two seasons. The Irish are notorious for giving away a miserly number of penalties.
A penalty count skewed in Irish favour by just three per game can in real terms mean around 100m of kicked territory with set piece possession following that territorial gain, or nine precious precious points on the scoreboard.
Can the Wallabies manage the referees with skill and subtlety to achieve at least parity with the Irish when it comes to the penalty count?
The series is shaping up to be an absolute cracker. My prediction? An Ireland series win 2-0 – the Wallabies’ best result will be a draw in the second or third Test.
Wallabies fans will walk away scratching their heads after a tactical masterclass from the Irish, showcasing plenty of patience and nerve.
What’s your prediction?