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Saturday 18 August 2018

Double trouble for Joe

Schmidt must pick a pair who can break down the Wallabies

REAL THREAT: Tadhg Beirne adds a poaching element to the Irish game
REAL THREAT: Tadhg Beirne adds a poaching element to the Irish game

Joe Schmidt would have known the majority of his first test team long before Ireland departed Dublin airport.

There can only be one obvious reason why he chose to list Peter O'Mahony and Jonathan Sexton as co-captains for the three tests once Rory Best's hamstring didn't heal.

The plan all along must be to give both of them at least one game off.

Sexton sat out three quarters of the first test in Brisbane and entered the combat zone with a one-point lead.

The fact that Ireland failed to register a score - and conceded ten points - in his time on the field will bother him.

Either way, Sexton will be laser-focused on changing the complexion of the series in Melbourne.

In terms of O'Mahony, it is highly likely that he will make way in the second test on the presumption that he has been pencilled in for the third.

This is where it all gets interesting for Schmidt.

The joint venture of David Pocock and Michael Hooper into the breakdown was decisive at Suncorp Stadium.

When Pocock wasn't turning over ball, he was slowing it down and the contrast in quick ball between the two nations was startling.

Ireland appeared to adopt a similar approach to that of Leinster against the Scarlets' dynamic duo of Tadhg Beirne and James Davies.

The game plan was largely predicated on protecting their own ruck ball rather than going after the Wallabies.

Schmidt can even out the contest in this department by awarding Beirne his debut cap on the blindside and calling up the fit-again Dan Leavy.

Ireland have just 11 more test matches between now and the build-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

This is the perfect platform for Beirne to showcase his talents as a menace at the ruck and the maul, a smooth lineout operator, and fine ball player from the blindside.

The recall of Devin Toner would shift some of the responsibility shouldered by O'Mahony as a target out of touch.

Nuisance

Ireland cannot be content with allowing Australia to clean the ball with ease.

Beirne's brilliance in this area as a poacher and athletic nuisance is needed.

Ireland's greatest area of concern all season long has been their defensive frailty on the edges.

The return of the highly intelligent Garry Ringrose to outside centre and the presence of Beirne and Leavy to draw more gold shirts into the breakdown could make all the difference.

Apparently, Leavy was the only player from the 32-man squad that was not considered for Brisbane.

The warrior attitude the Leinster flanker carries as an iron presence on the floor and on the ball is a missing link between the Grand Slam and last Saturday.

It was always likely that the former Ireland U20 captain would have a breakout season once he was given his head by Leo Cullen and Schmidt.

While Beirne and Leavy are not Pocock and Hooper at the breakdown, they have other tools to their belt.

The back-five reputation of Beirne is well-earned for the sound second-row basics at lineout, scrum and maul allied to the more cerebral skills of a loose forward.

While Leavy has always been a glutton for punishment on the ground, he has been moulded into a powerful leg-pumping carrier, who can crack the gain line, even at close quarters.

Ireland are in need of their own dynamic duo.

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