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Ireland looking for 3rd tour win in Oz. 
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Post Ireland looking for 3rd tour win in Oz.
Here’s an easy one. Who was the first European rugby union to win all its tests in a tour series in the Southern Hemisphere?

Whilst Ireland's playing history - home and away - against South Africa and New Zealand was 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 the baggy shorts era.

Not many people might know this, but Ireland has had 4 proper rugby tours of Australia - in 1967, 1979, 1994, and 1999. By proper, I mean old-style tours involving matches against provincial union or state teams as well as one or two test matches against the Wallabies. And rather surprisingly, Ireland have won two of them.

Ireland’s fifth tour of Australia begins with the first of three tests on 9 June and it promises to settle a few scores, mark the overall ledger up in favour of one team, and probably create a few bragging and bagging rights along the way for fans and commentators.

Australia won the first two tests between the countries in 1927 and 1947 in Lansdowne Road in Dublin. On the Australian tour of Britain, Ireland and France in 1958, Ireland got their first test win on the board. Over the next 20 years, the teams met 6 more times, with Ireland winning five of them, including their first-ever away test in Sydney as part of their first 6-game tour of Australia in 1967.

Ireland's last two test wins in Australia were those of the famous 1979 tour when the Irish team had their most successful winning patch, playing 8 games, including two tests, and losing just once against local representative team, Sydney.

Ollie Campbell, Mike Gibson, Terry Kennedy, Paul McNaughton, Tony Ward, Willie Duggan, Moss Keane, Fergus Slattery were some of the more well-known names on that tour. Tony Ward was the star name playing outhalf for Ireland. He had been named European Player of the Year for the second year running. All the running assumptions were that he’d play in a few of the run-up games and start the first test at the helm. A few days beforehand, the Irish manager and coach thought different and, inexplicably to nearly everyone, picked Campbell to start.

Across the two tests, Ireland scored 36 points with Campbell kicking 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 what became known in Irish rugby as ‘The Decision’.

Campbell returned home the hero of the hour by helping to claim the first individual tour victory in all tests by a northern team in the Southern Hemisphere. (France had won a test match but drawn the other test on tours of SA in 1958 and Oz in 1972.) After the 1979 Tour, Ireland’s overall win record stood at 6 wins to Australia’s 3.

Campbell and the team were cheered to the rafters. Ireland went on to win the Five Nations in 1982, shared it with France in 1983 and won it 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 - Ireland lost all the test matches and most of the midweek games against ACT, Sydney, and New South Wales amongst others.

Those two tours formed part of what is probably the lowest period in Irish rugby. Ireland played 11 tests against Australia, 8 versus New Zealand and 6 against South Africa between 1980 and 2002 - they lost every game. Despite their initial successes in the 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 2001 onwards, when professionalism finally took hold, and Irish provinces entered the Celtic League, the fortunes of the Irish provinces and test side changed - first under Eddie O'Sullivan, winning a test again against Australia in 2002 and for the first time against South Africa (2004). They moved from being regular wooden spooners in the 90's to competing at the top in the new Six Nations. Then they finally achieved a second Grand Slam in 2009 with Declan Kidney, 61 years after their first. They remained unbeaten that year finishing with a 15-10 win against Lions victors and the reigning Tri-Nations champions, South Africa.

Of course, after Ireland finally won again in 2002, Australia promptly won the next four tests. Another Irish win in 2006 was followed by two Wallaby wins and a draw. Then came the RWC pool match in 2011 with both teams meeting on neutral NZ territory. Australia ran into Stephen Ferris and Sean O’Brien for the first time and Will Genia found himself being picked up and carried backwards whilst his team-mates were held up time and again in the famous choke tackle and eventually out of the game. Australia won the next test in 2013, and Ireland won the next one a year later, and the next one again in 2016.

Nonetheless, Australia continue to have the upper hand - 21 wins to Ireland’s 11 (and a sister-smooching draw). But Ireland is determined to close the gap further.

So 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 Grand Slam win and recent record against the Wallabies.

Except they haven’t won in Oz for 39 years.

Their last away loss was in Brisbane in June 2010 as part of a NZ/Aus Tour. On that day, newcomer outhalf, Johnny Sexton, kicked all of Ireland’s 15 points in the first half, to Australia’s 16 points. But the Declan Kidney-coached team, off the back of a 97-point shellacking from the All Blacks and NZ Maori in the previous weeks, and down a few key players, couldn’t overtake the Wallabies as Giteau notched another couple of penalties to finish them off - 22-15.

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. Ireland are the current holders of the Lansdowne Cup - the trophy fought between the two sides since 1999.

England, Scotland & Wales have 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 *Terks* get more time and experience. Schmidt has faced this before, imposed through injury rather than selection by choice, when he brought a relatively raw squad to South Africa and gave much needed game time to some new faces including Furlong, Henderson, Roux, Stander, and Marmion.

Schmidt will want to win the series, but he needs to give more time to the newbies. He’s got a few injuries such as Henderson, O’Brien, Farrell - and may have more before the PRO14 finishes - but he still has plenty of choice this time around.

Wider Squad choices:

Hookers: Best, Cronin, N Scannell, Tracy, Herring
Props: TH - Furlong, Porter, John Ryan, Archer, Bealham; LH:- Healy, McGrath, Kilcoyne, Cronin
Locks: Toner, James Ryan, Dillane, Roux, Beirne
Flankers: O’Mahony, Ruddock, Leavy, J Murphy, S Reidy
Eight-men: Stander, Conan, O’Donoghue
SH: Murray, L McGrath, Marmion, Cooney
10: Sexton, Carbery, Keatley, Ross Byrne, Hanrahan
Midfield: Henshaw*, Ringrose, Aki, McCloskey, R Scannell, Arnold
Wings: Earls, Stockdale, Adam Byrne, Gilroy, Wootton, O’Loughlin
FB: R Kearney, Larmour, Conway

*Injured and not available to tour - Sean O’Brien, Iain Henderson, Chris Farrell, Fergus McFadden, Josh van der Flier, and possibly Henshaw.


Thu May 17, 2018 7:49 pm
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Post Re: Ireland looking for 3rd tour win in Oz.
Good luck to Ireland.


Thu May 17, 2018 8:24 pm
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