Ireland out to sow the seeds of victory
RUGBY:Ireland-Argentina tend not to do meaningless friendlies and so it is again. Never mind Monday week’s draw for the 2015 World Cup, more immediately Ireland need to end a five-match losing sequence for the good of the coaching ticket, the playing squad and their Six Nations prospects.
The last match usually defines a campaign, even a three-game autumnal one, and this one is no different.
In such a time of need, Argentina are not inclined to grant favours, least of all against Ireland, and a 2pm kick-off on a wet Saturday has a grim sense of foreboding about it. Put it another way, not exactly the most promising day to make your debut as an Ireland winger, especially as Craig Gilroy is in opposition to Argentina’s deadliest finisher Juan Imhoff.
Even when the Pumas had nothing to offer outside their grizzled pack in a de facto seedings play-off at Croke Park four years ago, Ireland could only breathe a collective sigh of relief in a taut 19-3 win after Tommy Bowe scored a late try off a Ronan O’Gara cross kick. There being no way through all day, Ireland eventually went over and across them.
The bad news is that these Pumas are a much more hardened and rounded team now, with more offloading and width to their game, through a potent backrow of Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, the sometimes fiery Juan Manuel Leguizamon and Leonardo Senatore, and a classy outside three, as well as much of their old directness.
They will test the Jonny Sexton-Gordon D’Arcy channel repeatedly and the rest of the defensive system through long passages of recycling, and as Declan Kidney noted during the week, when it’s drop goal time Nicolas Sanches will retreat so far into the pocket a long-distance runner won’t get to him. Scrumhalf Martin Landajo also has a sniping threat reminiscent of Agustin Pichot.
However, without the absent workhorse Patricio Albacete and other retirees, they perhaps don’t have quite the pack power of old, and this has been compounded by the loss of the latest heir to their tighthead throne, Juan Figallo. He has been replaced by the gargantuan debutant Maximiliano Bustos and, admitting he struggles more with massive opponents, Cian Healy (circa 25kg lighter) yesterday said he would have to be technically sharp in getting underneath Bustos.
But the Pumas scrum wreaked nothing like the havoc which the Samoans inflicted on the Welsh scrum, and given Mike Ross has had another game under his belt, Ireland ought to be okay there. With Mike McCarthy more atuned to the line-outs, and Jamie Heaslip a superb outlet, Ireland’s line-out should be more secure.
A fortnight ago, this fixture loomed ominously, and although Argentina were overwhelmed by three French tries after taking a 13-3 lead last week, of late Ireland (two tries in five matches) have shown nothing like the kind of opportunism Frederic Michalak, Vincent Clerc and co displayed.
Nor, in the absence of the dynamic Seán O’Brien and Stephen Ferris, do Ireland have the carriers to blast holes and set up quick ruck ball with which to release a singularly pacey outside four of Bowe, Gilroy, Simon Zebo and Keith Earls. Ireland were a mite too quick in going to their backs with ball that wasn’t quick enough against the Boks, leaving Zebo and co to run into traffic.
Fernandez Lobbe yesterday vowed that the Pumas would “contest every scrum, every line-out and every restart” and no-one doubts they will also contest every breakdown. Therein assuredly lies the key.