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Ireland to keep unbeaten record going

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Jim Neilly | 11:37 UK time, Friday, 13 November 2009

Ireland's Test season starts this weekend, with Declan Kidney's side aiming to go through a calendar year undefeated. A tall order or a realistic target?

First up it is Australia, a poor third in the most recent Tri-Nations tournament. But, as England discovered at Twickenham last weekend, they are capable of matching anything northern hemipshere opposition can throw at them.

Brian O'Driscoll's Ireland are favourites to get a rare win over Australia.jpg

Mind you, weren't the chaps in white pretty dreadful, even allowing for the fact that they were missing a handful of front-liners?

Ireland used to dispose of the Wallabies with relative ease, but not since Fergus Slattery's side won both Tests on Australian soil 30 years ago, have Ireland been at the races.

The Australians, currently coached by former All Black Robbie Deans, have beaten Ireland in 16 out of the last 18 games, including all four fixtures in the World Cup, so Grand Slammers beware!

The ultra-pragmatic Mr Kidney has named 13 of the 15 that took the field in Cardiff last March. Interestingly, at the team announcement in Dublin, he admitted he had not selected strictly on form.

John Hayes has not played a game for five weeks due to suspension and Jerry Flannery has hardly laced his boots in earnest this season, having missed the Lions tour last summer because of injury. But coach Kidney would not have named them if he was less then 100% sure.

Still, Paddy Wallace has been the form inside centre this season.

After a couple of batterings in the early games, had he not resembled someone who had gone 20 rounds with the Klitschko brothers, he would have been first choice in the number 12 jersey throughout the entire Six Nations campaign.

But Paddy's back, and, against a Wallaby backline that oozes class and menace, the Wallace/O'Driscoll midfield pairing looks ideal.

Speaking of Brian O'Driscoll, playing his 100th test on Sunday - 94th for Ireland and six for the Lions - he is truly a man apart.

An extraordinarily gifted and committed player, he has evolved into a marvellous captain.

I had the pleasure of interviewing him at this week's Irish Rugby Writers' Awards dinner when he conducted himself with good grace, understated humour, tact and aplomb and, at the written and electronic media scrum that passes for a press conference, he was quite superb, handling the banal and belligerent with consumate ease, making life a lot easier for an understandably nervous Cian Healy who woll be winning a first cap on Sunday!

I fancy Ireland, despite not having been together for six months, to win, but only just.

Finally, for anyone making the trip to Croke Park from the north, it is becoming very, expensive, don't you think? With tickets at face value of 95 euros, plus a fill of petrol/diesel, a spot of lunch or dinner, you won't get much change from 300 quid for a day out for two!


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