Gilroy brings the feel-good factor
RUGBY:The hype is intensifying, as if any meeting between Ireland and Argentina needed it. Of the 11 clashes since 1999, this is the second time when a top-eight ranking and second-tier seeding for a World Cup draw is on the line, to go with run-ins at the World Cups of ’99, ’03 and ’07.
At times in the course of those meetings, you could almost reach out and bite the tension, so suffocating was it. On Newstalk on Wednesday, Keith Wood admitted he never played in a game as intense as Ireland’s ’03 revenge mission in the scenic, if slight surreal setting of the Adelaide Oval and this week, with an edge to the work guaranteed, there’s a real danger of this Ireland team buying into the hype.
But not Jamie Heaslip, who conveys the impression it’s water off a duck’s back, and with good reason. “When anyone mentions pressure this week, I keep hearing Cian Healy in the back of my head saying ‘pressure’s for tyres’. For us, to be honest, all the outside pressure and chat, we’re just letting it wash off us as best we can and just focusing in on us and what we have to do because it’s a tall challenge that we have.
“Argentina are a good side, they’ve a lot of experience. They’ve had a lot of games this season, which is the first time it’s happened, and we can see that they’re benefiting from it. So we’ve focused on their strengths and their weaknesses, and we’ll hopefully be able to exploit some space and make some gains.”
For Ireland, Saturday’s equation is simple. Win, and they have a top-eight ranking. Lose, and they won’t. There’s a one-in-four chance that, come the World Cup draw on Monday week, Ireland might end up in the same pool whether they’re in the top eight or outside it, although a top-eight ranking might well mean avoiding, say, New Zealand and the hosts, England, or possibly Argentina, whose top-eight ranking might not be forfeited even if they lost on Saturday.
But there’s also a certain symbolism attached to securing that ranking, especially as it would mean Ireland ending a sequence of five defeats in a row, albeit three of them away to the world’s best side by a distance.
As expected, Declan Kidney dipped into the feel-good factor generated by the 53-0 win over Fiji by promoting the hat-trick hero Craig Gilroy in the only change to the match-day 23 against South Africa. And viewed in all this light, it might be no harm if Ireland also dipped into some of that youthful and Ulster-infused fearlessness of last Saturday.
The key to this, said Heaslip, will be having a mantra-like understanding of their roles come a jog-through captain’s run at the Aviva this morning. “We just have those so implanted in our heads and that gives you that calmness then. Yeah, they’ll have the nerves and Gilly will probably have those first-match nerves and everyone always gets nerves, to be honest. But it doesn’t stop putting the green jersey on and when you have that clarity it just makes it a little bit easier to focus in on what you have to do and just take whatever opportunity the game throws at you with both hands and go.”