Ireland more concerned about performance than November clean sweep

THERE IS A quiet, composed confidence around Ireland camp at Carton House these days, although Joe Schmidt’s players and coaches are guarded about sharing their belief explicitly.

After wins over South Africa and Georgia, the clash with Australia in Dublin on Saturday provides Ireland with a chance to ensure a clean sweep of their November Tests this year.

Such a feat would provide another clear indicator of the progress made since last November, when Schmidt’s men won once in three games. But talk of a clean sweep is not being entertained or encouraged in Maynooth.

As is the way under Schmidt, it’s all about getting better. The score takes care of itself.

“Is it important to us to get a clean sweep? Not really as important to us as improving continually, getting better as a team and players. That’s it, first and foremost. We haven’t looked at the series as a whole, we’ve looked at each game as we’ve gone along and this is no different. Improved performance is the most important thing.”

Memories of last November’s meeting with the Wallabies should serve as a stark reminder of what happens when Ireland don’t produce a strong performance, with that 32-15 defeat remaining a low point in Schmidt’s otherwise superb reign.

Number eight Jamie Heaslip confirms that Ireland have revisited that fixture, although “more in an analytical frame” than for any hints as to how their mental preparation might have been off-key.

Heaslip is concerned with the performance more than momentum. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

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Easterby concurs that “certain elements of that will be looked at,” although he also points out that “we’re in a better place than we were 12 months ago as well.”

A sentiment that is almost impossible to argue with.

Michael Chieka will name his team at 4.00am on Thursday morning, and it is expected that there will be a number of changes to the XV that offered up a poor performance in losing to France last weekend.

Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale and Will Genia are among those in line to add attacking quality to the Wallabies’ starting side, although Heaslip indicates that whoever they select, “they’ve got players coming out of their ears in terms of quality.”

As for Ireland’s personnel, Rory Best’s return to fitness means he is likely to come back into the XV for Saturday, with Easterby having underlined that the Ulster hooker has proven that he is fully fit after his recent calf issue.

In midfield, Jared Payne’s foot injury means Gordon D’Arcy and Robbie Henshaw are set to be paired together, a blend of youthful energy and the Leinster man’s experience, which Easterby yesterday pointed to as important.

Rory Best and Jack McGrath are both set to return to the starting XV. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Stuart Olding looks like being included on the bench as a versatile back of attacking quality, while it is expected that Rhys Ruddock did enough against South Africa to retain the number seven shirt ahead of Tommy O’Donnell.

The Cheika factor has been a much-discussed element to the build-up this week, and whatever about his tactical and technical insight into some of the Irish players, we can be certain that he will have his players at fever pitch mentally.

Easterby plays down the effect Cheika’s knowledge will have on the encounter, pointing out that the level of analysis undertaken at the top levels of the modern game means every opponent has that detail.

“There’s always going to be a lot of analysis done these days, four or five angles on every scrum or set-piece, end-on and side-on cameras, so there’s very little these days that you’re not exposed to and very little that the opposition can’t see as well.

“I’d say Australia are a good side and understand how to analyse teams, but I’d say we pride ourselves on that too.”

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