'Squeaky clean' Ireland pose penalty threat for Wallabies

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Ireland will bring plenty of threats to Australia in June and Wallabies defence coach Nathan Grey says discipline could be the biggest.

Ireland were the least penalised side in this year’s Six Nations, infringing just 34 times, and yellow-carded once, well below England and Italy, who gave away 58 penalties, Wales who conceded 42 and Scotland with 40.

The Wallabies have had their own discipline issues in recent seasons, racking up 62 penalties in their last five Tests last season, starting from the final Bledisloe as well as four yellow cards and a red card.

Though some of those sin binnings were controversial, infringements are an area of concern for the Wallabies and something Grey said they needed to be aware of against 'squeaky clean' Ireland.

Australia was on the end of a lopsided 13-3 penalty count in their last encounter, in Dublin in 2016, a situation that prompted Wallabies coach Michael Cheika to seek a 'please explain' from World Rugby referees boss Alain Rolland.

“They're playing a really good effective style of rugby that's reaping rewards for them,” Grey said.

“They've got a few key features of their game that they're exceptionally good at.

"They're a very clean, squeaky clean side. They're very frugal in terms of their discipline and that's a really good sign.

"They obviously have a real clear understanding of how they want to play and go out and do it."

As for the Wallabies, Grey said the Australian Super Rugby sides were well in front of their progress at this point last year, a much-needed improvement for the franchises.

Part of that progress is down to both Grey and attack coach Stephen Larkham switching to full-time Wallabies gigs, rather than splitting their time between national and franchise duties.

“(We’re) significantly ahead of where we were this time last year, which was needed,” he said.

“The fact that we've really got the ability to focus on just the Wallaby program, Steve and myself as well as keeping an eye on the teams in Super as well has been a real positive for us.

“(We’re) enjoying doing that, but licking our lips looking forward to getting into June.”

Nathan Grey says the Wallabies are progressing better than 2017. Photo: Getty ImagesAll of the Wallabies assistants have been on somewhat of a rotating road show this season, visiting each franchise on a regular basis.

It’s a move that has been welcomed by provincial coaches and Grey said it was helping bring the national and state programs closer together.

Though Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is a vocal proponent of provincial coaches having autonomy in their decisions, his mantra has been alignment and Grey said that was certainly growing.

Defence was an area that took the Wallabies time to adapt to last season and Grey said while there was variety in defensive strategies, having a regular presence at clubs certainly would help with the transition from Super Rugby to a June Series against Ireland.

“The guys have a really clear understanding of what we do and the Sr coaches understand that as well, so we're very diligent in making sure that everyone was aware of that and we're not saying that the way the Wallabies defend is the only way,” he said.

“I know from what all other teams are doing, we're all aligned, which is fantastic, so the players have a real clear understanding of what's expected of them and that's a great thing, to have that clarity and consistency across all teams.”

Australia takes on Ireland in the 2018 June Series in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, kicking off on Saturday June 9. Buy tickets here.