Grand Slam Champions Ireland fly into Australia full of confidence after dominating European rugby both internationally and domestically over the past six months.
The plane over was packed full of European Champions Cup and Pro14 winners as their Leinster contingent finally met up with the rest of the squad who had been enjoying their post season mini break.
Michael Cheika will hand Wallaby debuts to the Queensland Reds pairing of Caleb Timu and Brandon Paenga-Amosa at Number 8 and hooker respectively. Timu’s inclusion means that there will be a shuffle in the back row with David Pocock moving to the blindside flank to form an imposing partnership with Michael Hooper on the openside.
The Australian Head Coach has also chosen to pick Kurtley Beale at inside centre to add some flair and ball handling skills outside of Bernard Foley.
In light of this positional shift Samu Kerevi moves to the outside, where he has not played in a Gold shirt since he was widely criticised for his defensive performance in the Bledisloe Cup game last August in which Australia conceded 54 points. His selection is a real show of support from Cheika especially as Tevita Kuridrani is also available for selection but he misses out completely.
Ireland have, as expected, rested some of their big name Leinster players as Johnny Sexton starts with a watching brief whilst Joey Carberry pulls on the number ten jersey. Carberry, at the age of 22 is highly rated in Ireland but he has seen his chances limited at both provincial and international level because of Sexton but he will be making a high profile move to Munster over the close season and will be looking to take his first chance to step out of Sexton’s shadow this weekend.
Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healey are other notable absentees as Joe Schmidt has taken his chance to rest them and also place them on the bench with a plan to use them as impact players later in the game.
With captain Rory Best also out injured it means that the front row will have an unfamiliar look with Best’s Ulster team mate Rob Herring stepping into his sizeable boots alongside Jack McGrath and John Ryan.
Both sets of replacements are a mix of old campaigners and fresh faces but the most notable name on the replacements bench will be Pete Samu. The Canterbury Crusader flanker was given permission to play for Australia after they finally reached an agreement with the New Zealand Rugby Union over his release to the Brumbies. The combative flanker has been in fine form for the Crusaders this year and will only add more value to a position where Australia are already rich in talent.
Ireland’s big guns are on the bench however and having the ability to introduce the likes of Sexton, Healey and Furlong later in the game makes the squad depth extremely strong. It way well be another of the replacements making the headlines though as Jordan Larmour, the Leinster utility back is a firework ready to be lit. His running ability from deep is explosive and destructive and Australia will do well not to kick the ball in his direction during open play.
The last time Ireland played in Australia was 2010 as the Wallabies edged a tight encounter but Ireland will certainly go into this as favourites and deservedly so if the recent form of the two opposing sides is anything to go by. Ireland are on a 12 game winning streak whereas Australia only managed a 50% win ratio in 2017 which included heavy defeats to New Zealand and losses to Scotland both home and away. One of which was a 50 point mauling at Murrayfield.
It may feel like this is Ireland’s to lose but Australian resilience can often rear its head and their team is littered with potential match winners so this has all the makings of an entertaining first test and series overall.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Dane Haylett Petty, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia; 1 Scott Sio, 2 Brandon Paenga Amosa, 3 Sekope Kepu, 4 Izack Rodda, 5 Adam Coleman, 6 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 8 Caleb Timu.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Lukhan Tui, 21 Pete Samu, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Reece Hodge.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Conor Murray; 1 Jack McGrath, 2 Rob Herring, 3 John Ryan, 4 James Ryan, 5 Iain Henderson, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 7 Jordi Murphy, 8 CJ Stander.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 Jordan Larmour.