Rugby World Cup 2011
Oz ready for Irish attack
James O'Connor (Gallo)
Auckland - The Wallabies are poised to take an important step towards the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday but are wary of a passionate Ireland sabotaging their innovative attack.
Tri-Nations champions and second-ranked Australia impressed with their second-half dismantling of Italy last weekend but all week Wallaby players have been deeply respectful of the threat posed by Brian O'Driscoll's Irish.
Ireland traditionally give the Wallabies problems and two of their four previous World Cup encounters have been decided by a point. Overall Australia lead 20-8.
The eighth-ranked Irish may have endured a woeful World Cup build-up of four straight defeats along with an unconvincing 22-10 Pool C victory over United States, yet that counts for nothing for Australia at Auckland's Eden Park.
But there is a feeling within the Wallaby camp that it is all coming together at the right time under coach Robbie Deans, in his 50th international in charge this weekend, and this will be an important marker to measure their progress.
"The game has been talked about for a long time, even before the tournament even started, and there's a lot of history and tradition between these two nations, particularly at the World Cup," Deans said.
"It's going to test us totally and that's the nature of World Cups, you've got to deal with what's in front of you at the time.
"We know that this weekend will be another step up from round one. This weekend is key for us as it is for Ireland."
The Wallabies have had a setback with the loss of in-form left winger Digby Ioane with a fractured thumb, but the return of James O'Connor to the starting side is a boost to a backline rated extremely highly by O'Driscoll.
"They are often innovators when it comes to back-end play and they are forward thinkers in that regard," he said.
"You do see other countries trying to copy some of the things they do but, at the same time, we feel as though we have the capability of shutting them down if we defend accordingly."
Once again it will come down to the Wallaby forwards to build the platform for their backs and counter the Irish pack's hustling and aggression.
O'Connor has been champing to get back into the starting XV and take over the goalkicking after paying his dues for missing the World Cup squad announcement and the official team photograph last month.
The youngster was suspended for one match, missed the Tri Nations decider against the All Blacks, and then was selected on the reserves bench against Italy, but "has learnt his lesson" according to team insiders.
"I want to do what's best for the team. Wherever the selectors see fit to put me, I will be glad to do that and will be playing my guts out," O'Connor told reporters this week.
O'Driscoll has been urging his team to step up against the Wallabies.
"They are everyone's expectation of finishing first (in our pool)," he said.
"That in itself is going to make it a huge game. And the fact that we feel we haven't done ourselves justice to date, that adds another expectation from our end."
Ireland say they have no special plans to muzzle match-winning Australian flyhalf Quade Cooper despite his virtuoso show against Italy.
Backs coach Alan Gaffney said it would be a mistake to single out one player in the Wallabies' richly talented back line.
"He's got exceptional skill levels, he's got fantastic vision and obviously very, very good pace. A very, very good player, world class and a very difficult player to handle," Gaffney said of Cooper.
Ireland have made four changes, with prop Cian Healy replacing Tom Court, flanker Sean O'Brien in for Shane Jennings, scrum half Eoin Reddan taking over from Conor Murray and fullback Rob Kearney is in for Geordan Murphy.
The centre partnership of Gordon D'Arcy and O'Driscoll will play their 45th international together in the centres, breaking the world record previously held by England's Jeremy Guscott and Will Carling.