Pluck of the Irish needed to stop Wallabies' run
Updated: September 12, 2011, 03:12
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) The Wallabies have such a great history against Ireland that even a drawn match feels like a loss to them.
Having beaten Italy 32-6 to start its World Cup campaign, the fifth chapter of Australia's World Cup rivalry with Ireland will be written Saturday at Eden Park with the loser possibly meeting South Africa in the quarterfinals.
Australia has won all four previous World Cup head-to-heads, and lost only twice in the past 20 tests against the Irish across a 30-year span. But Brian O'Driscoll's last-minute try in a 20-20 draw in 2009 was so heartbreaking that Wallabies flanker David Pocock chalks it up as a defeat.
"They're a team that goes for 80 minutes, and we've got that experience a couple years back when they beat us on the bell,'' Pocock said Monday. "They're a totally different team (than Italy) and they have a lot of older heads who have been at it for a long time. They've got some world-class players, so that's a big challenge for us. It's going to take a full team performance to beat them.''
Assistant coach David Nucifora was a backup hooker in Australia's 1991 World Cup-winning squad that memorably relied on a last-ditch Michael Lynagh try to down Ireland 19-18 in the quarterfinals at Lansdowne Road, and he needed no reminding of the head-to-head ledger.
"We love playing them in the World Cups - we've got some pretty good history there,'' he said.
However, Digby Ioane's broken thumb removes one of the Wallabies' chief attacking threats from the match, and the immediate future, raising Irish hopes of springing an upset and moving into pole position in the pool.
Ioane will undergo surgery after being hurt in a second-half collision with Italy winger Mirco Bergamasco but will remain with the squad.
Entering the tournament on four straight losses, Ireland's indifferent form continued with a patchy 22-10 victory over an American Eagles team fired up by playing on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
But Nucifora is wary of Ireland's British and Irish Lions three-quarters, featuring Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls and Geordan Murphy or Rob Kearney.
"They've got some different threats for us,'' Nucifora said. "They've got a bit more in their attacking basket than the Italians, with some of their backs, so they'll throw more at us in attack and ask different questions of us defensively.''
Reserve prop James Slipper's only match against the Irish was in the 22-15 win last year in Brisbane, but that was enough to witness their unpredictability in attack.
"You can't read them. You can read Italy,'' he said. "They're a lot more skilled, they're more aggressive. I think it's more of a fast game they play. The Irish keep an up-tempo game, with the likes of O'Driscoll and more of their backline. They're sharper on the passes and the point of attack. They always switch the point of attack, which is hard to defend.''
The Wallabies completed a recovery session in the pool after Sunday's match and held another one later Monday, helping the players' battered bodies to recuperate from a torrid first-half defensive performance from Italy that left the teams level at 6-6 at the interval.
Coach Robbie Deans remained composed at halftime and talked of holding on to the ball and building pressure, revealed Pocock and Slipper.
"Our squad reacts better to a firm approach instead of a ranting and yelling approach,'' Slipper said. "We don't need any extra motivation. We know what has to be done and all Robbie did was pinpoint where we could improve on.''
Nucifora said Italy's first-half tactics of kicking the ball in behind the players and pressuring at the breakdown wasn't a surprise, saying if anything that it was the performance of the Wallabies' set-piece that caught the Azzurri off guard.
"We showed during the game we matched them at scrum time,'' Nucifora said. "There was one particular scrum where we had a player short and Rocky was down injured and we held their scrum very well, and we also put pressure on their scrum at other times.''