Ireland welcome Argentina with spring in step
Having tapped into the Ulster zeitgeist in Saturday’s 53-0 romp against Fiji, Ireland move on to an altogether sterner and more relevant test against their old foes from Argentina with a welcome spring in their step. Come Ireland’s final day of reckoning in this November window next Saturday, that top eight ranking and second tier seeding for the World Cup draw in a fortnight’s time could yet be on the line again.
Confirmation of the IRB’s latest updated rankings await today, but over the weekend Ireland have actually climbed a place to seventh above Wales, courtesy of Samoa’s win at the Millennium Stadium on Friday night, which pushed them above Scotland, who lost to South Africa on Saturday.
Argentina, meanwhile, remain above Ireland in sixth despite their 39-22 defeat in Lille on Saturday night, a result which hardened France’s top four seeding above the 2015 hosts England after their loss to Australia.
As Wales host top-ranked New Zealand next week (and also have Australia in Cardiff a week afterwards) and Samoa travel to Paris, they each have opportunities to significantly boost their ranking. Failing that, defeats won’t hurt them as much as it would Ireland, were they to lose at home to Argentina.
“My understanding is we just have to win next week,” said Kidney. “We need to beat Argentina to avoid falling below the two of them (Wales and Samoa).
In other words, if Ireland didn’t beat Argentina, the top eight ranking could be in jeopardy. “Yes, that’s my guess,” re-iterated Kidney, who generally has his homework done on these things. At least Ireland has their fate in their own hands.
The sense of déjà vu is palpable, for it was on the comparative day four years ago that Ireland and Argentina effectively met in a play-off for eighth place prior to the 2011 World Cup draw. It was also the first tranche of matches under this coaching ticket, although coming after a 22-3 defeat to the All Blacks, pretty much all else has changed though, changed utterly.
More strings to bow
“Same situation, just a completely different age profile of a squad,” Kidney noted on Saturday evening. And as their win in Wales a week ago also highlighted after their ultra-competitive debut campaign in the Rugby Championship, these Argentinians are both way more hardened and have infinitely more strings to their bow.
“When we played them four years ago you’d catch them because they’d probably get three weeks together in a whole season,” said Kidney. “Now they’re at the end of maybe 10/11 weeks, and depending on what happens in France tonight they could be going for top four themselves.
“They’re a seriously impressive side now. You saw the Italians improve as a result of being in the Rabo; Argentina are going to do nothing but improve by part of the Rugby Championship. That’s why I say the more often we play those sides the better.”
Beyond the boost in confidence and some beneficial game time for the 15 or so who will be involved one way or the other next week, notably Mike Ross, admitted the coach, it’s hard to see much relevance to the latest rendezvous with Los Pumas in last Saturday’s affair.
“It’s going to be a totally different type of game next week,” accepted Kidney. “Tonight was all about giving fellas opportunities and you saw how they went with it, but they stood up to it. They can but play who’s in front of them.”
Fiji were abysmal. Maybe their bizarre tour itinerary contributed, but not only were they dishevelled in defence, even some of their basic handling, of all things, was atrocious and long before the end some of their number were more interested in a scrap than the game.
There had been understandable annoyance that last Saturday’s match had not been granted full Test status but, with the benefit of hindsight, had caps been awarded there probably would have been demands that they be retrospectively be taken back.
With those Argentina scrappers in mind, most worryingly, Ireland’s clearing out at the breakdown was decidedly mixed. Another blemish was the knee ligament injury which befell the Connacht warrior John Muldoon, who tweeted last night that he will be out for a few months. Jonny Sexton was withdrawn from the replacements after his groin tightened up in the warm-up.
Kidney’s decision to give youth its head and delve deeply into the squad was fully vindicated. In a selection infused with Ulster tyros, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy enjoyed themselves no end.
Ironically, it’s highly conceivable that a front-line team would not have won as convincingly as a comparatively carefree side itching to showcase their abilities. Yet it would also make complete sense if Kidney were to revert to last week’s selection virtually en bloc.
The one change might be at left wing, where Andrew Trimble came under increasing pressure by the events of Saturday. The game had also looked like an audition between Fergus McFadden and Craig Gilroy, and it panned out that way, with McFadden playing the first half on the left despite wearing 14, before significantly they switched wings at Kidney’s behest for the second-half.
“That was something that sort of presented itself because you don’t want to be upsetting the team too much,” explained the coach.
They scored a try apiece in the first-half, before Gilroy out-pointed McFadden by two more tries to one after their interval switch with a 75 metre flourish.
Many amongst the Thomond Park faithful in the 17,100 crowd would have witnessed Gilroy’s superb match-winning try in last season’s Heineken Cup quarter-final, and by the end there was a buzz when he got the ball.
Given he’s not starting for Ulster maybe he should move to Munster? Only kidding.
Argentina omit three for Ireland Test
Horacio Agulla, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino and Juan Figallo have been left out of the Argentina squad for the final test of their European tour against Ireland next Saturday.
Agulla is the only one omitted through injury after he was concussed during the 39-22 defeat to France on Saturday following a clash of heads with Maxime Mermoz.
Coach Santiago Phelan has recalled star outhalf Juan Martin Hernandez, who has recovered from a knock he received during the 26-12 win over Wales the previous week.
Santiago Fernandez and Maximiliano Bustos, who both play for Montpellier in France, have also been included.