Autumn Series Test: Ireland v Argentina
Kick-off: 2.15pm, Sunday. Venue: Aviva Stadium. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will begin at 1.45pm. On TV: Live on RTÉ2.
Andy Farrell has made four changes from the side that beat the All Blacks for Sunday’s concluding Autumn Series Test against Argentina at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 2.15pm), with 24-year-old Enniskillen flyer Robert Baloucoune set to win his second cap on the right wing.
As expected, there is a new half-back combination behind an unchanged pack. Joey Carbery, in just his ninth Test start, is partnered by the recalled Conor Murray in light of the injuries which have ruled out Johnny Sexton and Jamison Gibson-Park. It was conceivable that Carbery, and perhaps Murray too, would have started this game anyway.
The fourth change sees the fit-again Robbie Henshaw restored alongside Garry Ringrose in midfield for the former’s first outing since the Lions’ third Test in South Africa after overcoming the foot injury which has delayed his seasonal re-appearance.
A strong selection is a measure of the respect Farrell and co hold for the threat posed by Argentina, while it is also a sign of the high regard they have for Baloucoune that he has been afforded this opportunity ahead not only of Andrew Conway, but Jordan Larmour and Simon Zebo as well.
Baloucoune’s acceleration, ability to change direction either way at full tilt and his eye for the line were in evidence when he scored the opening try on his debut against the USA last July.
“Selection is the same every week, it’s making sure we get the balance right,” said Farrell. “We have forced changes and one or two that we want to have a look at as well. The enforced changes at half-back changes things up a little bit.
“We are excited to see Conor back, and Joey, and starting in the team with a good forward pack in front of him and obviously Robbie coming back in as well. It’s great for him and the team and seeing Robert Baloucoune getting his chance on the wing.
“He’s a quiet type of chap and gets about his business in that type of way. But the potential is there for all to see. I love the way that he’s unorthodox in his play. He’s obviously very quick and hopefully we can get him into a bit of space.
“He has a natural feel for the game and very underestimated as far as decision-making and reads in defence. He’s very good under the high ball. So hopefully we can get some front-foot ball and give him some room.”
It transpires that Bundee Aki has some knee issues which “he needs to nurse, nothing too serious, but he has really dug in for us over the last few weeks,” said Farrell. “He deserves a rest.”
There are four other changes to the matchday 23 on the bench, where a quartet of players aged 23 or under have been promoted. The 22-year-old half-back pair of Craig Casey and Harry Byrne are in line to win their fourth and second caps respectively. Born three days apart in April 1999, Casey and Byrne started together in two of Ireland’s five games in the 2019 under-20 Grand Slam-winning campaign, but it probably would have been more, and conceivably all five, but for injuries to both.
An unchanged pack makes all the more sense.
“I think it’s nice for Joey and it’s also nice for the two young lads on the bench coming on to a pack like that with all the experience that comes with it. Having said all that, we are two games in and it is pretty tough at this type of level for any team and the pack is important as far as the setpiece is concerned, certainly against a pack like Argentina.”
In addition, after winning his first cap off the bench against Japan a fortnight ago, the 23-year-old Leinster hooker Dan Sheehan has been recalled ahead of Rob Herring as more of a like for like replacement for Ronan Kelleher. The 23-year-old Ulster tighthead Tom O’Toole has also been promoted to the replacements.
The win over the All Blacks has been parked.
“Honestly, I’m certainly over it,” said the Irish head coach. “As coaches and as players we are really pleased with the way the week has gone because we know the type of emotion that is coming our way this weekend because it is their last game of the season and we know what type of battle it is going to be. We’ll dust everything off over the next couple of weeks and see where we are with reviews etc but it’s full steam ahead this week.”
While the spirit and quality of training in camp has been “through the roof” according to Keith Earls, it means 11 players from the original 39-man will be disappointed not to have featured, namely David Kilcoyne, Tom O’Toole, Ryan Baird, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Coombes, Nick Timoney, Stuart McCloskey, James Hume, Ciaran Frawley and the aforementioned Larmour and Zebo.
Similarly, Mario Ledesma has retained a dozen of the Pumas starting XV from last week’s 37-16 win over Italy in Treviso. Lucio Cinti of London Irish is promoted to the left wing, with the fit again Guido Petti restored to the second-row and Santiago Grondono promoted to the back-row.
As a result, there are a few positional switches, with Mateo Carreras swapping to the right wing, Marcos Kremer reverting to openside and the Crusaders-based former captain Pablo Matera, outstanding last week, shifting from blindside to number 8 as Facundo Isa is kept back for an impact role off the bench. Santiago Carreras is again preferred to Nicolas Sanchez at outhalf.
Farrell said he had honest conversations with each of them individually.
“It is difficult for them, there is no doubt about that. Selection should be difficult and the conversations I have had with all of them, selection is in their own hands, don’t let it be a 50-50 (call).
“Go back now to your provinces and let’s see what you are made of, see where camp, the training, everything they have picked up.
“Not just from how we play, but how they pick up stuff off each other. It will be there for all to see, won’t it, in the next couple of months. So, we are interested, like always, how people transfer from camp to club form ASAP and keep that going to want to get back into the room for the Six Nations.”
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Robert Baloucoune (Ulster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), James Lowe (Leinster); Joey Carbery (Munster), Conor Murray (Munster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Rónan Kelleher (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Iain Henderson (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster, capt); Caelan Doris (Leinster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster).
Replacements: Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Tom O'Toole (Ulster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Craig Casey (Munster), Harry Byrne (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster).
ARGENTINA: Emiliano Boffelli (Edinburgh); Mateo Carreras (Newcastle Falcons), Matias Moroni (Leicester Tigers), Jeronimo de la Fuente (Perpignan), Lucio Cinti (London Irish); Santiago Carreras (Gloucester), Tomas Cubelli (Biarritz); Thomas Gallo (Benetton), Julian Montoya (Leicester Tigers, capt), Francisco Gomez Kodela (Lyon); Guido Petti (Bordeaux), Tomas Lavanini (Clermont Auvergne); Santiago Grondona (Exeter), Marcos Kremer (Stade Francais), Pablo Matera (Crusaders).
Replacements: Facundo Bosch (La Rochelle), Ignacio Calles (Pau), Eduardo Bello (Zebre Parma), Lucas Paulos (Brive), Facundo Isa (Toulon), Gonzalo Bertranou (Dragons), Nicolas Sanchez (Stade Francais), Facundo Cordero (Exeter Chiefs).