Ireland take on Australia in the first game of a three-Test series to be played between the countries at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt views the Australia series as an opportunity to try out new combinations before the nitty-gritty of the Six Nations and World Cup to come next year.
He has made six changes to the team that beat England at Twickenham to clinch a Six Nations Grand Slam, with skipper Rory Best out injured and Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Dan Leavy and Garry Ringrose all either benched or rested.
“We want to make sure this tour is another building block for what comes in the future,” Schmidt said.
“We’re going to have a big target on our forehead for [the Six Nations] next year and then obviously, beyond that, the really big tournament which follows in September and October is the World Cup.
“We don’t have too many options to trial things between now and then. This will be an opportunity to do some of that. It’s going to be incredibly tough and that’s when you find out about players in those situations.”
In the headline change, Joey Carbery has been preferred at fly-half to Johnny Sexton, who takes his place on the bench and Schmidt believes that Carbery needs to own the jersey.
“One of the challenges we set for Joey [Carbery] is that he’s got to boss it,” Schmidt said. “He’s in that pivotal link for most of what we’re doing so he’s got to boss that.
“At the same time we’ve challenged Robbie [Henshaw] and Bundee [Aki] to help him as best they can because if they can do a little bit of that work for him and take a little bit of that pressure off him, I think it’s going to be advantageous for Joey. It’ll free him up to act rather than to think all the time.”
Meanwhile, if the Wallabies can replicate the sort of form that saw them break a 15-match winless streak against the All Blacks with victory in last year’s third and final Bledisloe match, then they will stand a good chance of breaking Ireland’s 12-game winning streak, which goes back to the fourth match of the 2017 Six Nations against Wales.
There are 10 survivors from that day in Brisbane in late October of last year as Michael Cheika has begun to build some continuity, with this Wallabies side looking a more settled unit than it has in a while with plenty of hot prospects coming through the ranks patiently waiting their turn.
Ireland will as usual look to employ a tight-forwards based game as they look to rain missiles upon the Wallaby back three and prey on any mistakes.
This could have been what prompted Cheika to opt for a second full-back in Dane Haylett-Petty on the left wing. With incumbent number 15 Israel Folau already the best in the world in the air and Haylett-Petty more than adept himself, the Wallabies are well-suited to dealing with the aerial bombardment
The last time the sides met, the Irish targeted scrum-half Will Genia – something which the Aussies might look to do themselves with Conor Murray even more crucial to Irish hopes in Sexton’s absence.
Prediction: Australia by 6, Ireland rest a few players
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Dane Haylett-Petty, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Caleb Timu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 David Pocock, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Lukhan Tui, 21 Pete Samu, 22 Nick Phipps, 23 Reece Hodge
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Iain Henderson, 4 James Ryan, 3 John Ryan, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 Jordan Larmour