Just two games in and already we reach what looks on paper to be the deciding game in Pool C as Ireland and Australia clash in Auckland on Saturday morning, kick off 9.30am.
At stake for the winner is an easier ride into the knockout stages of RWC 2011with both sides keen to avoid a quarter-final clash with South Africa.
Unconvincing against the USA, Ireland hopes received a massive blow during the week when hooker Jerry Flannery was ruled out of the rest of the Rugby World Cup with a calf injury.
The Munster front row sustained the damage in training and faces up to six weeks on the sideline.
Rory Best will start against the Aussie’s and the Ulster captain will need to ensure that his line out throwing improves from his August outings especially with Sean Cronin jumping up the ranks to bench filling duty and Damien Varley on his way out to New Zealand to join up with the squad after his call up.
Declan Kidney has made four changes from the side that struggled to impose themselves in that 22-10 win over the USA.
Sean O’Brien, Eoin Reddan, Rob Kearney and Cian Healy all come into the side with Conor Murray, Geordan Murphy, Shane Jennings and Tom Court making way.
Andrew Trimble, arguably Ireland’s most impressive performer in the August tests is once again omitted and must contend with a place on the bench. With Ireland’s backline putting in a poor opening performance against Eddie O’Sullivan’s Eagles, the continued absence of Trimble is fast becoming a major talking point for pundits.
Australia will look to target the Irish backs especially Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney who despite their undisputed talent have both had recent spells on the sidelines with Kearney only playing 47 minutes of rugby in the build up and Bowe despite benefitting from playing Ireland’s last two games back after a three month lay-off.
Australia meanwhile are currently full of confidence, building on their Tri Nation’s winning campaign with a 32-6 win over Italy in their opening pool match. Substitute James O’Connor impressed against the European’s coming off the bench to score a try and kick three conversions.
O’Connor has now been rewarded for his performance with a starting place against the Irish; the newly signed Melbourne Rebel replacing the injured Digby Ioane on the wing.
O’Connor, who made headlines for the wrong reason during the tri Nations when he served a one-match ban for breaching team protocol, will also take over the kicking duties from Quade Cooper.
The Wallabies also welcomes back winger Drew Mitchell to the squad after the Waratahs winger recovered from a serious ankle injury sustained in April against the Queensland Reds. Mitchell, who scored five tries during the 2007 Rugby World Cup, will start on the bench
Ireland has a poor World cup record against Australia and in four previous clashes at this level have yet to beat the Wallabies. However recent encounters between the sides have been close affairs with Ireland losing by 7 points last summer in Brisbane as well as losing 18-12 in Melbourne in 2008.
The defeat in 2008 was sandwiched in between some impressive performances with Ireland drawing and winning their two previous clashes on Irish soil in 2009 and 2006 respectively.
Ireland: (v Australia at Eden Park, Auckland, on Saturday, kick-off 0930 BST): R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O’Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D’Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O’Callaghan (Munster), P O’Connell (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), S O’Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), T Court (Ulster), D Ryan (Munster), D Leamy (Munster), C Murray (Munster), R O’Gara (Munster), A Trimble (Ulster).
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Anthony Fainga’a, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 James Horwill (capt), 4 Dan Vickerman, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements:16 Tatafu Polota Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Drew Mitchell.