James Ryan looks set to captain Ireland against Argentina in Sunday’s concluding Autumn Series Test at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 2.15pm) after news that Johnny Sexton’s combination of a twisted knee and ankle is set to sideline him for four to six weeks.
The Ireland and Leinster captain suffered the double injury in the 28th minute when tackled by Reiko Ioane, who then landed on the back of his left leg, but with typical iron will Sexton played on until the 64th minute before Joey Carbery steered the ship home by landing three match-clinching penalties.
Ryan assumed the captaincy for the last 16 minutes although at times it appeared as if Peter O’Mahony had taken over the role judging by his dialogue with referee Luke Pearce. Old habits die hard.
Sexton’s setback is a particularly ill-timed blow for his province, as it most likely rules him out of their upcoming derbies against Ulster and Connacht as well as their first Champions Cup game at home to Bath. It also makes him doubtful for their second European game away to Montpellier and the St Stephen’s Day derby away to Munster.
Conceivably, Andy Farrell and his coaching staff might well have been inclined to start Carbery next Sunday against Los Pumas anyway while also affording Harry Byrne more experience off the bench after his 26-minute debut as a replacement in the win over the USA last July.
Jack Carty’s call-up, while perhaps unlikely to see him add to the last of his 10 caps against Russia in the World Cup over two years ago, is fair recognition of his recent form for Connacht when assuming the captaincy.
Gavin Coombes has also been restored to the squad after being released for over a week due to illness, something that might count against him when it comes to Farrell picking the matchday squad.
It was always likely that Farrell and co would freshen up the side for this game although the need for a victory is no less acute in light of beating the All Blacks for a third time in five meetings over the last five years on Saturday. It will be fascinating to see how far they go now when the team is announced on Friday.
With Sexton out, only 23 of the 39-man squad who’ve been in camp for the last three weeks have seen any game time in the two matches to date. By all accounts training has been of a very high standard and it’s clearly a happy camp, but the Irish coaches will surely feel compelled to reward some of those yet to feature while in the process ensuring a hungry side faces Argentina. By the same token it will hardly be a drastically new side either.
One would suspect that Dave Kilcoyne, Dan Sheehan and perhaps Tom O’Toole will have some involvement, as might Ryan Baird and/or Ultan Dillane. O’Mahony will probably be involved again after his significant impact off the bench against the All Blacks when, true to type, coming up with some big plays. Given Coombes has missed almost two weeks’ training, Nick Timoney might be better positioned to be a part of the 23.
After three appearances off the bench, Conor Murray looks a probable bet to start his first game of the season alongside his Munster halfback partner Carbery, with perhaps Craig Casey on the bench as well as the younger Byrne.
The All Blacks Test having come a week too soon for him, presumably Robbie Henshaw is in line to make his seasonal reappearance as well given he has been in camp for the last three weeks and returned to training last week, while there’s a clatter of outside backs itching for game time, be it Keith Earls, Jordan Larmour, Robert Baloucoune and, of course, Simon Zebo.
Ultimately though, one could anticipate a strong core of last week’s matc-day squad being retained, albeit with several promotions from the bench, and thus perhaps half a dozen or so changes to the starting line-up.
Ireland squad for Argentina Test:
Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 33 caps
Robert Baloucoune (Ulster/Enniskillen) 1 cap
Harry Byrne (Leinster/Lansdowne) 1 cap
Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 26 caps
Jack Carty (Buccaneers/Connacht) 10 caps
Craig Casey (Munster/Shannon) 3 caps
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 27 caps
Keith Earls (Munster/Young Munster) 95 caps
Ciaran Frawley (Leinster/UCD)*
Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 12 caps
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 52 caps
James Hume (Ulster/Banbridge) 1 cap
Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 15 caps
Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary's College) 30 caps
James Lowe (Leinster) 8 caps
Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor) 6 caps
Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 91 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 36 caps
Simon Zebo (Munster/Cork Constitution) 35 caps
Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 5 caps
Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 18 caps
Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 24 caps
Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 22 caps
Gavin Coombes (Munster/Young Munster) 2 caps
Ultan Dillane (Connacht/Corinthians) 19 caps
Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary's College) 11 caps
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 51 caps
Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 111 caps
Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 65 caps
Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 23 caps
Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 15 caps
Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 45 caps
Peter O'Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 78 caps
Tom O'Toole (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 1 cap
Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 39 caps
James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 39 caps
Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne) 1 cap
Nick Timoney (Ulster/Banbridge) 1 cap
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 34 caps