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The French connection

From Bod’s hat-trick to Sexton’s drop-goal, no opponent has defined this Irish rugby century quite like France

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This Ireland is a different beast - Neil Best

By Neil Best

They can conquer who believe they can


I’m not sure I can remember an Irish team that has toured as such heavy favourites. What’s maybe most impressive, they seem incredibly comfortable shouldering the expectation that comes with the tag.

Looking at Joe Schmidt’s team for the first test, he’s gone for a mobile and abrasive pack. Iain Henderson is back from injury, and his second-row partnership with James Ryan has the potential to be world dominating come Japan. The likes of Rob Herring deserve their chance to stake claim to be Rory Best’s test understudy. I’ve played with Sean Cronin and I like the guy, but I think he offers more as an impact replacement than as a starter. Herring has earned his chance, but he’ll know it’s worthless if he doesn’t take it. Clearly Sexton being benched is a nod to Leinster’s busy few weeks collecting silverware. But it’s also an opportunity to acknowledge Joe Carbery for playing the IRFU’s game in sacrificing Leinster blue for Munster red.

That said, this is not the time for Ireland to risk momentum by blooding too many less experienced or fringe players – but this Irish selection has found the right balance. One year out from the World Cup it’s more important that the winning habit is maintained.

The only thing you can realistically see in Australia’s favour is home advantage. They have some obvious and high-profile talent in the backline – but so do Ireland – and without a pack that can dominate Australia will lose the attritional contest. One thing Irish fans can be confident of, is that this Leinster heavy Irish squad know how to grind out results and win with attrition.

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The Welsh have received some criticism for their Washington jaunt to play South Africa but setting aside commercial considerations, the match made some sense for both teams. They are one of the few who can claim to have faced high-level opposition at a neutral venue in their “long” world cup preparation. What made less sense however, is for the Springboks to decide to line up against England at home only a week later. And England like Ireland will know the confidence boost they will take from going one better than Wales -with victory on someone else’s patch.


Ireland against Australia holds great personal memories for me. In many ways my career reached an early peak in Ireland’s autumn series win against Australia in 2006. We followed up a win against South Africa by beating the Aussie’s eight days later – and I started both games. I’d placed so much focus on getting to that point, I was lost for weeks afterwards. It sounds odd, but looking back at that time, mentally I hadn’t prepared myself for my next professional step and target. These Irish players and this squad are a different beast. Many have already reached key career milestones – without loss of appetite or purpose.

It will be interesting to see the Australian media reaction whatever the result. No doubt they’ll have a good whinge about something – but if Ireland deliver as expected – we’ll see a nation that might feel they have to go full windup and insult in the run-up to the Melbourne test.

The Australian book of etiquette is a very slim volume


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