Michael Hooper's ability to disrupt the Irish at the breakdown could prove crucial to the Wallabies' hopes in Dublin on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Australia were well and truly beaten in Paris, despite what the scoreboard suggests. Up front, they were bullied by a ferocious French pack, while their backline contributed to their downfall with a plethora of simple mistakes. Michael Cheika has his work cut out for him.
A fortnight ago, we saw the Irish batter the Springboks into submission. Their greater intensity at the breakdown and line speed on defence caused the Boks endless problems. The Wallabies can expect the same treatment on Saturday. Unless they are able to front up, a heavy defeat looks on the cards.
Cheika has very little at his disposal to greatly alter Australia's approach. Up front, Sam Carter comes in for the ineffective James Horwill, while Sean McMahon's position on the blindside will be filled by the equally untested Luke Jones. In the absence of a physical presence like Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper's role becomes even more vital to the Wallabies' cause.
Hooper has been a standout among the Wallabies pack this year. Often playing off the side of a pack that is retreating steadily, Hooper's tenacity on defence has become a hallmark of his play. Against the Boks in Cape Town he made a staggering 24 tackles, and a similar performance will be needed if Australia are to come close to the Irish this weekend.
The Irish come into this one riding high, after comfortable victories over the Boks and Georgia. They are further buoyed by the return of Rory Best at hooker, while the experience of Gordan D'Arcy will complement the youthful exuberance of Robbie Henshaw in the midfield. The final change to the side that did the job against the Boks sees Rhys Ruddock replace Chris Henry at blindside flank.
Apart from the two aforementioned changes to the Wallabies side, Henry Speight will make his long-awaited debut on the wing, while Matt Toomua replaces Christian Leali'ifano. Kurtley Beale will make his return to international rugby, after being named on the bench alongside Will Genia and Quade Cooper.
The Wallabies have a good record against Ireland, and ran out comprehensive 32-15 victors in Dublin last year. Hooper grabbed a brace that day – his first two tries in international rugby – but it will be his work without the ball that could well decide the outcome of Saturday's match, and which side will end the weekend at No 3 on the world rankings.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Wallabies 21, Ireland 9, Drawn 1
In Ireland: Wallabies 11, Ireland 5, Drawn 1
LAST FIVE RESULTS
2013: Wallabies won 32-15 (Dublin)
2011: Ireland won 15-6 (Auckland)
2010: Wallabies won 22-15 (Brisbane)
2009: Drawn 20-20 (Dublin)
2008: Wallabies won 18-12 (Melbourne)
HOOPER'S STATS THAT MATTER
88 – The number of tackles he made during the Rugby Championship (Rank 1)
53 – The number of carries he made (Rank 5)
3 – The number of tries he scored (Rank 3)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Rhys Ruddock, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Dave Foley, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Felix Jones.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Luke Jones, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Benn Robinson, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Will Genia, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Photo: Peter Muhly/AFP Photo