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Thursday 16 August 2018

Trevor Brennan: No happy memories against Wallabies, but that can change

I certainly have no happy memories of playing Australia – and if we can slay the Wallabies this Saturday, I'll be the happiest man in Auckland.

Every sportsperson in every code has their disappointments and our encounter with the Aussies at the Rugby World Cup in 1999 will certainly go down as the worst moment of my career.

The week beforehand we had also played the Americans and defeated them convincingly in a display which saw hooker Keith Wood score an astonishing four tries.

I can vividly remember the nervous excitement that had gripped the entire squad before we walked onto the hallowed turf of Lansdowne Road to take on the Wallabies.

Images of Gordon Hamilton racing away from the great David Campese to score in the corner |in the 1991 quarter-final were going through my mind.

I was in the stand that day and remember grown men in floods of tears and the ecstasy that moment created. Agonisingly, Campese conjured some magic, which led to Michael Lynagh touching |down in the corner to break our hearts.

Eight years on from that memorable day and |we had a great chance to replicate the heroics of Hamilton and co and, under coach Warren Gatland, our plan was to get in their faces and force them into errors.

That day will unfortunately be remembered for my dust-up with Toutai Kefu – he managed to land 11 blows to my one while Jeremy Paul and Tim Horan held back my arms.

It was the biggest regret of my career, not that I was on the receiving end of a hiding but I had to be substituted and missed the next two games in the competition through suspension, ending my foray in the World Cup. We would go on to lose to Argentina in Lens on a sad day for Irish rugby.

Kefu would also receive a two-game ban but he would return to play in the final and ultimately lift the Webb Ellis trophy, which really rubbed salt into the wounds.

The history of the World Cup suggests that if we are going to stun one of the southern hemisphere giants, it will probably come against the Wallabies – and hopefully it comes this weekend.

“Losers live in the past, winners learn from the past,” was the advice legendary Toulouse coach Guy Noves drummed into me, and the Irish team could do worse than pay heed to this. Improvements in decision-making and basic handling will see a marked improvement in Ireland's performance this weekend because our set-piece is performing well.

Against the USA, we should have capitalised on our dominance and mauled our way to a bonus point. The fact that we didn't attack from the base of the scrum when the US Eagles were back-pedalling is a concern.

Defensively, we have been impressive and this has to continue on Saturday. Greater continuity in our play is a must, too often we are breaking the gainline and there are no runners to receive an offload and build momentum.

Let’s be under no illusions, we're taking on a team which took on the All Blacks’ best XV and beat them last month to win the Tri-Nations.

The Italians gave them a first-half fright and they are unlikely to make such a poor start again.

The Australian scrum is performing better than anyone expected, led by David Pocock, the most destructive forward in world rugby, and Leinster's former Heineken Cup hero Rocky Elsom.

James O'Connor has also really impressed me with his electric pace and fearless nature, and he will take some stopping.

Digby Ioane looked very dangerous against Italy in attack but, for the Aussies, he will be sorely missed for his defensive skills and cover for Quade Cooper’s channel, which is susceptible to attack.

Victory this weekend may be beyond us but expect a typically heroic Irish display, which will auger well for our clash with the Italians and possibly a quarter-final with the Springboks.

Issues surrounding the Gilbert world cup ball have surfaced again, as they did in France four years ago.

Although it is being played down, the kicking of Jonny Sexton, Jonny Wilkinson and Chris Patterson suggests that all is not right with the ball.

Hats off to Romania, Tonga, Japan and the US who have shown that the so-called rugby minnows haven't just come to New Zealand to make up the numbers.

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