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Now or never for Ireland as Aussies beckon

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Ireland are a side who seem to relish the sensational one-off victory. Often it is England who feel the heat. Think of the foot-and-mouth game from October 2001 or the final match of this year's Six Nations in Dublin. Can they pull off the big one against Australia here in Auckland on Saturday?

A few months ago Ireland were looking like the danger team of the northern hemisphere. They seemed more than capable of turning over the Wallabies and opening up an enticing World Cup path where they would likely avoid New Zealand, while Australia would be left to face South Africa in the quarter-finals. Four consecutive warm-up defeats to Scotland, England and France twice drained that confidence and belief, while the opening win over the United States will have done little to alleviate the concern among their passionate supporters. Albeit in appalling conditions, the Irish handling was poor and the cutting edge missing.

Australia were arguably the most impressive of all the main contenders in the opening round of fixtures. They weathered a physical start from Italy and, despite the 6-6 half-time score, pulled clear with a classy second-half display. They are Tri-Nations champions, have a host of fabulously talented players to call upon and a very shrewd coach in Robbie Deans.

Ireland lock Paul O'Connell accepts they are firm underdogs. He said: "On form Australia are a long way ahead of us at the moment. They have threats all over the field and we have to starve them of quality ball.

"For us to win, we need a massive performance. In Irish teams, when our emotion and passion is high, we're a better side. Hopefully that will be there in abundance on Saturday. When we put it together for 80 minutes, we are an excellent side that can compete with anyone."

RFU reputation in tatters after latest debacle

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By Alastair Eykyn, BBC 5 live rugby commentator

Throughout its colourful history, the Rugby Football Union has proved itself world class when it comes to internecine warfare. The latest splurge of bloodletting, though, has shocked even seasoned RFU watchers.

To see the hierarchy of English rugby fighting like rats in a sack has been deeply unedifying if you happen to care about the sport. It must be deeply confusing even if you do not.

One RFU Council member was heard to remark recently that the governing body was "even managing to make Fifa look good". The reputation of the RFU is in tatters, and it is entirely of their own making.

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