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Gerry Thornley: Successful Autumn Series augurs well for Ireland

Farrell delighted by way squad coped with disruptions to rout Argentina

The big three of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia having been beaten on the same day for the first time since 2002 on Saturday, Ireland completed the European clean sweep against the Rugby Championship quartet with a handsome 53-7 win over Argentina.

The Six Nations should be a goodie.

In the process, Andy Farrell's side also completed Ireland's third 100 per cent return from their last four Autumn Series. In three games they scored 19 tries and 142 points, conceding just four tries and 32 points.

For Farrell, although he admitted the final scoreline was “very flattering”, this was the most pleasing of the three autumnal victories because of the manner in which his team adapted to even more disruptions than was the case with last week’s Covid scare.

Jack Conan was ruled out on the morning with a strained quad, which was compounded by Iain Henderson's hamstring injury in the warm-up.

Tadhg Beirne came into the second row and Peter O'Mahony to the back row, the latter also assuming the captaincy when James Ryan went off before half-time, while Caelan Doris shifted to No 8. Nick Timoney was rerouted from Belfast at 8am as he and Ryan Baird were promoted to the bench.

So Beirne went from covering the second row all week, to covering the back row on the morning of the game, to starting in the second row at short notice, while also calling the lineouts, not having done so all week, in what was a 16 from 16 return.

“It just shows the strength of the group that Pete is covering six, seven and eight and can do it seamlessly. For all the mix-up this morning, Tadhg Beirne has come in to second row and all of a sudden he is covering six, seven and eight and he is back into second row again and he plays a match like that.

“Pete comes off the bench to play the full game and ends up captaining the side and has a stormer. The most pleasing part is the cohesion we showed as a group.”

There were also significant chunks of game time for more of the under-24s now breaking into the squad – Robert Baloucoune, Baird, Dan Sheehan, Craig Casey, Harry Byrne and Tom O'Toole, on top of more big games from Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher and Caelan Doris.

"That's why I say today was the most pleasing day for me because of how we've grown as a group. Those lads thoroughly deserved their chance and it wasn't just the young lads," he said, singling out Cian Healy, Keith Earls and O'Mahony again.

But Farrell also highlighted the way Casey and Byrne “sped the game up”, Dan Sheehan’s nine out of nine lineout return, and he “looks such a presence with ball in hand and linespeed defensively as well”, and Baird and O’Toole.

Classy eye

Another major boon was the sight of Joey Carbery pulling the strings at outhalf, landing eight of nine kicks for an 18-point haul, and twice showing that classy eye for a gap when seamlessly playing the final half-hour at fullback, which hadn't been pre-planned.

“I thought he was good. His placekicking was exceptional and that keeps the scoreboard ticking over. For him to be in charge for the full week with Johnny not being there was a great experience for Joey and he will learn more from that game.”

Farrell also cited a read and tackle by Carbery as a prime example of Ireland’s defence.

“You guys have been asking questions about what’s the most pleasing part of our game over the last couple of weeks and, 100 per cent, in our eyes it would be our defence. That typified it today.

“They were asking questions in the first half. We were physical and the pride we had in our own line towards the end of the second half epitomised it really.

“I suppose in months or seasons gone by you would say he [Carbery] needs to work on that. He’s been working unbelievably hard, I think he’s been exceptional defensively in the last few weeks.”

Argentina lost their discipline a tad in the second half, conceding 13 penalties to 10 overall but also incurring a yellow and red card.

O'Mahony reacted angrily to the unnecessary and dangerous clear-out by Tomas Lavanini when catching a grounded Cian Healy with a shoulder to the chin, prompting Matthew Carley to send him off. But he'd calmed down after the game.

“Ah look, it’s heat of the moment stuff. I’ve been on the other side of that as well so it’s a split-second decision from his point of view.”

O’Mahony was more of a mind to stress the positives from the month.

“I speak for the group in saying that it’s been an incredibly enjoyable month,” said O’Mahony. “I was chatting inside and having a beer there and it’s just been great fun. We’ve learned a huge amount as a group and the cohesion that we have built has brought us to that next level of friendship which is so important.

“Chatting there with Hugo [Keenan] I have loved the month. It’s probably the most enjoyable one of my career so far, which has been a while now.”

Although Farrell was upbeat about Ryan’s wellbeing – “He’s good. He’s fine in there. He took a little bit of a knock but nothing too serious.” – the one shadow on Ireland’s landscape was the sight of a forlorn Ryan, in his fourth outing as captain, walking off for another HIA and not returning.

As bulk suppliers, Leinster were always likely to suffer the most from Ireland's efforts and Johnny Sexton, Jamison Gibson-Park and now Conan and Ryan have all come away from the window with injury issues.