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Rugby Union: Irish battlers to test All Blacks.

Byline: GRAHAM WOODS

ENGLAND may have pulled off the result of the season last week by beating Australia, but their clash with Romania at Twickenham this afternoon surely must take a back seat to some far more competitive clashes.

Ireland host the mighty All Blacks while France take on Australia in a re-run of the last World Cup final.

The Irish have a record of one draw and 13 losses against New Zealand and were dismissed 63-15 the last time the teams met at Lansdowne Road four years ago.

However, their Kiwi coach Warren Gatland will probably feel his players will never have a better chance of putting one over on his home nation, and it certainly could be closer than a 12-point handicap suggests.

Ireland are well and truly played-in now, with four autumn internationals - and a defeat of England - under their belts. New Zealand, however, have not played since their last-gasp Tri-Nations

defeat against Australia, and this is their first outing under new coach John Mitchell. He is treating this tour as a chance to blood new players, with 11 newcomers in his squad and two Test debutants - centre Aaron Mauger and openside flanker Richard McCaw - in action today.

In the past the All Blacks rarely appeared to struggle on their tours, but in the last few years that has not always been the case - defeat in France last year and a remarkable

26-26 draw four years ago at Twickenham attest to that.

During the Tri-Nations, New Zealand appeared to lack their traditional power up front, and while there is no doubting the skill and pace of their backline, boasting the likes of Leon MacDonald and Jonah Lomu, the Irish pack will work their socks off to deny them a platform.

The All Blacks should be capable of winning, but there is enough about this Irish side to take a chance on them with Stanley's 12-point start.

Expectations have turned around quickly inside a week ahead of this evening's France v Australia clash, after the French sprang an upset on South Africa last week and the Wallabies crashed at Twickenham.

Australia were outmuscled by England's pack last week and on the back foot from the off, but will be desperate to bounce back from that defeat. In a surprise switch, coach

Eddie Jones has selected flanker Phil Waugh ahead of George Smith, and it appears his aim is to win the physical battle early on, possibly bringing Smith on later.

The French pack failed to convince in the Six Nations, and they are sure to be given a more thorough work-out than they were against South Africa.

Australia showed in the second half against England how well they can unlock defences once they have the ball to run with, and if they can do that from the start, should overcome the points handicap.

Ladbrokes have the Wallabies giving up six at 8-11, but Chandler and Coral go 10-11 with a seven-point handicap and that looks a better deal against a France side who line up 19-year-old debutant Frederic Michalak at fly-half.

England give up 70-odd points against Romania, and while they are capable of overcoming that against a country lacking in big-match experience and who are prone to indiscipline, handicaps of that magnitude are usually best swerved, especially with England coach Clive Woodward bringing some of his bench players into the action from the start.

Wales are too unpredictable at the moment to back giving up 23 points to Tonga, and a better prospect might be to have a small interest in the ever improving Italians, buoyed by their landslide win over Fiji last week and offered a 24-point start against South Africa.

Springbok coach Harry Viljoen has made seven changes to the side that lost 20-10 to France last weekend, bringing in several fringe

players.

Recommendations

Ireland +12

4pts 10-11 (Stanley)

Australia -7

4pts 10-11 (Coral, Chandler)

Italy +24

3pts 5-6 (Surrey)

First England tryscorer - Stan James: 9-2 Luger, Robinson, 11-2 Greenwood, Cohen, Healey, 15-2 Hodgson, Tindall, 8 Back, 10 Worsley, 12 Moody, 20 Regan, Kay, 25 Borthwick, 33 Rowntree, 40 Leonard, 66 no England

tryscorer.
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Nov 17, 2001
Words:689
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