Dane Haylett-Petty is expected to be fielding plenty of high balls on Saturday night.
Dane Haylett-Petty is expected to be fielding plenty of high balls on Saturday night.

Huge Irish test looming for Haylett-Petty

THE pinpoint Irish kicking game is forcing the Wallabies to work on a twin fullback plan that could see the Test rebirth of Dane Haylett-Petty on Saturday night.

The pressure applied by Irish halves Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray, the master of the box kick, is so integral to their match plans that it has to be factored in by the Wallabies.

When the Irish celebrated their Grand Slam invasion of Twickenham in March, it all started with an early try from a high Sexton kick fumbled by an English winger under pressure.

Haylett-Petty has started each of his 18 Tests as a winger but he is a reprogrammed fullback and those skills are amply employed in any Test he plays.

Defusing high balls and kicking to touch are always a valuable foil to Israel Folau's catch-and-counter expertise because Australia's fullback weapon is a less able kicker.

That rationale points to Haylett-Petty, Folau and winger flyer Marika Koroibete as Australia's back three for the first Test at Suncorp Stadium.

It would squeeze Reece Hodge and his prodigious boot to the bench as utility cover for the backline.

Haylett-Petty has not played a Test in nine months since biceps surgery forced him to make a steady comeback with his new Melbourne Rebels club this season.

How the Wallabies finalise the outside centre slot is as competitive as the final backrow spot.

Queensland Reds centre Samu Kerevi has been in excellent form and with extra variety to his game.

He has set up tries this season with deft kicks and the backhanded offload that put Caleb Timu over against the NSW Waratahs as well as his trademark bulldozing.

Kerevi's hitting in defence has never been more forceful or accurate but 58-Test regular Tevita Kuridrani still has the more reliable defence at No. 13 if not the same punch as an attacker.

Curtis Rona's form spike for the Waratahs has made it a three-horse race although he lacks the Test experience of the other duo.

 

AT LEAST the Wallabies know the danger in green at halfback on Saturday night, unlike the tiny schemer who was their unsung nemesis for an Irish upset in Brisbane in 1979.

Conor Murray has been at the core of a rich period of Test success for Ireland and will duel with Will Genia on equal footing at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.

It will be a duel to savour because you can't drop your guard for a minute on Murray, whose shortside darts, pure pass and box kicking ignite so much for his team.

Tony Shaw's 1979 Wallabies never saw their problem coming, certainly not if they were peering above 170cm.

That was the size of Belfast-born half Colin Patterson, who scored two tries when Ireland pulled off a grand 27-12 shock at Ballymore 39 years ago.

 

Ireland's scrum-half Conor Murray.
Ireland's scrum-half Conor Murray.

 

It remains Ireland's only success in Brisbane and their only 2-0 series tour to Australia.

Beating the Wallabies on their own turf in this three-Test series would be the icing on a Grand Slam success in the Six Nations.

"They're littered with talented players and it's always really demanding on your lungs," Murray said of the Wallabies' challenge.

"It's often played at a quick pace and this group wants to test themselves against the best.

"We've all been aiming for that for quite a while and now want to put down a marker against one of the big-dog teams.

"Will's top class and his form is right up there at the moment … it's a challenge people are looking forward to."

 

- Jim Tucker and Murray Wenzel

 

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