By Pot Hale
Tour Number 5
Not many people might know this, but Ireland has had 4 tours of Australia - 1967, 1979, 1994, 1999. The first two were old-style tours involving matches against club teams as well as one or two test matches against the Wallabies. Both sides have won two tours and lost two. Tour Number 5 begins on 3 June 2018 and it promises to settle a few scores, move the ledger in favour of one, and probably create a few bragging and bagging rights along the way.
Whilst Ireland's history - home and away - against South Africa and New Zealand is littered with one failure after another in the amateur days, surprisingly their record against Australia is pockmarked with wins at home and on the road, albeit matches were held less frequently in BSE - Baggy Shorts Era. Australia won the first two tests in 1927 and 1947 in Landsdowne Road in Dublin, and then on the Aussie's tour of Britain, Ireland and France in 1958, Ireland got their first test win on the board. And over the next 20 years, the teams met 7 times, with Ireland winning six of them, including the only test in Sydney as part of their 6-game 1967 tour of Australia.
Ireland's last two away wins in Australia were those in the famous 1979 tour when the Irish team had their most successful winning patch, playing 8 games, including two tests, and lost just once against local club, Sydney.
Ollie Campbell, Mike Gibson, Terry Kennedy, Paul McNaughton (Greystones), Tony Ward, Willie Duggan, Moss Keane, Fergus Slattery were some of the more well-known names on that tour, with Campbell getting the headlines when he replaced Tony Ward at the starting 10, and helped win the day. Across the two tests, Ireland scored 36 points (when tries were worth 4), Campbell kicked 28 of them bringing his total to 60 points for the tour. He was named player of the tour. Ward, by his own admission in his autobiography, never played as well again and laid blame squarely at the manager and coach’s door for how they handled it. Campbell returned home the hero of the hour by helping to claim the first individual tour victory by a northern team in the Southern Hemisphere. (France had won 8 out of 9 matches but drawn the first test on a tour in 1972.)
He and the team were cheered to the rafters. Ireland won the Five Nations in 1982, shared it with France in 1983 and won outright again in 1985. And then the curtain came down. And the roof started to fall in.
Two further 2-test tours against Australia followed in 1994 and 1999 - this time Ireland lost all the test matches. And won only a few mid-week games too - 2 from 8 in 1994 and just 1 in 1999 . Those two tours formed part of probably the lowest period in Irish rugby when Ireland played 11 tests against Australia, 8 vs NZ and 6 vs South Africa between 1980 and 2002 - they lost every test game. Despite their successes in early 1980s, their record in that period against Five/Six Nations opponents was not much better - 3 wins from 24 against France, 7 from 24 vs both England and Scotland, and even losing 3 from 8 against Italy.
From 2002 onwards, the fortunes of the Irish provinces and test side changed - first under Eddie O'Sullivan, winning tests again against Australia and for the first time against South Africa as well as moving up from being regular wooden spooners in the 90's to competing at the top in the new Six Nations until finally achieving a Grand Slam in 2009 with Declan Kidney.
Now, it’s the turn of Joe Schmidt to bring the Ireland squad down-under for a three-test series in June. Expectations are high with Ireland’s recent win record against the Wallabies, 3-2 in the last five matches, with two wins at home, and one in NZ at the RWC. Their losses include one in Brisbane 22-15 in June 2010, the last time Wallaby fans saw Ireland on Australian soil. On that day, newcomer, Johnny Sexton, kicked all of Ireland’s 15 points in the first half, going in at the break down 16-15. But the Declan Kidney-coached team, off the back of a 97 point shellacking from the All Blacks and NZ Maori, and down a few key players, couldn’t overtake the Wallabies as Giteau notched another couple of penalties to finish them off.
Eight years on from Brisbane, both teams are in different places and ranking. Cheika is hoping to fashion a team that can compete and win in the Rugby Championship. He needs a decent scalp on his belt going into that battle. Schmidt has the 6N in his back pocket and a team that is beginning to hum nicely with a mix of old heads and young hearts running a new 12-match streak.
England, Scotland & Wales have all announced squads with development and player rest on their minds as coaches seek to add depth to their squads for RWC 2019. Irish pundits and fans have been making similar noises querying whether players such as Sexton, Murray, Furlong, Stander should rest up on their summer hols and let the younger Turks get more time and experience. Schmidt has faced this before, through injury rather than choice, when he brought a relatively raw squad to South Africa and gave much needed game time to some new faces including Jackson, Furlong, Henderson, Roux, Stander, and Marmion.
So should Schmidt now choose to do the same in Oz? He'll want to win the series, but he needs to give more time to the newbies. Schmidt will probably issue his wide squad for the Australia tour after the Champions Cup final this weekend between Leinster and Racing92.
Wider Squad choices in order:
Hookers: Best, Cronin, Scannell, Herring
Props: TH -Furlong, Porter, John Ryan, Cronin; LH:- Healy, McGrath, Kilcoyne, Bealham,
Locks: Henderson, Toner, Jas Ryan, Dillane, Roux, Beirne, Treadwell
Back-rowers: O’Mahony, Ruddock, Van der Flier, Leavy, J Murphy, S Reidy
Eight-men: Stander, Conan, O’Donoghue
SH: Murray, L McGrath, Marmion, Cooney
10: Sexton, Carbery, Keatley, Byrne
Midfield: Henshaw, Ringrose, Aki, Farrell, McCloskey, R Scannell, Arnold
Wings: Earls, Stockdale, Gilroy, D Kearney, Wootton, Byrne
FB: R Kearney, Larmour, Conway
Edit: updated some info since I first posted this for accuracy.