Liam Toland: Man of the match award not a free pass

Reselection never a guarantee in Schmidt era due to the huge amount of talent within squad

I’m not overly focused on the detail of Ireland’s victory over Argentina, but instead the detail of the autumn series.

Firstly and possibly the greatest achievement of the Joe Schmidt era resides with the man of the match awards. Andrew Conway won it against Fiji and Jacob Stockdale against Argentina where in fact it could/should have been Rob Kearney, who was superb.

And here’s the point. Winning man of the match awards at Test level in a Schmidt side does not automatically ensure reselection the following week never mind the following season. That’s how ruthless the machine has become where being the best player on the field in one moment in time doesn’t give you a free pass for the next moment; as the new boys get their chances where each individual performs as if lifted from a Schmidt petri dish in the bowels of an IRFU laboratory.

To be fair to Argentina they are not the team of the 2015 World Cup, where they struggled on many fronts especially on gifting cheap turnovers from poor handling. But although they struggled for vast periods on Saturday they still have quality throughout.

Take the "exhausted" Argentine hooker Agustin Creevy. Clearly tired of Ireland's first-half tactics, he based himself in a midfield role after the break like a soccer holding midfielder; a conduit of Argentina's rebirth.

In the opening half Los Pumas didn’t engage the breakdown, affording Ireland total comfort in possession. Even from the kick-off Ireland played/excited for two full minutes, inching their way forward, testing the edges and rewinding at will until that first Johnny Sexton penalty – 3-0. I wondered, why were Argentina so passive?

The Irish defence was rewarded a few times when an Argentinian passed into the hands of Irish players.

Successful Andy Farrell defence

Argentina did pay attention and notice two key aspects of the brilliantly successful Andy Farrell defence. Firstly, Ireland were rushing up, leaving green grass behind, hence the little grubber kicks. But secondly, whether or not they noticed, the position of the Irish scrumhalf in the Farrell defensive structure is instructive.

Traditionally, the scrumhalf sits in behind the breakdown, directing defensive traffic if you will. But equally important, the scrumhalf can cover half breaks and kicks as a defending sweeper. Remember Conor Murray's try in Chicago? Where was Aaron Smith when Murray broke? Nowhere.

The Irish scrumhalf tends to fill into the defensive line for a variety of reasons: time constraints etc, but it does negate the sweeper role. Look back at the tape and you'll notice Murray was in the openside defensive line as Argentina probed blind with Joaquin Tuculet getting to the touchdown from Nicolas Sanchez's wonderful grubber – a double whammy from Argentina in reading our defence.

Murray was almost there to pressurise but had started 10 metres further away due to his "new" defensive positioning. And that Ramiro Moyano scored the last try was fitting considering his breakout run (after a dubious breakdown play from Lucas Noguera).

But again the Irish scrumhalf, Luke McGrath on this occasion, was in the defensive line on the openside where he couldn’t sweep back and cover Gonzalo Bertranou’s wonderful sliding grubber for Moyano.

Very quickly we’ll all have forgotten this series (three from three!) but the foundation of a future is powering on. Over 30 extremely talented Irish players are hungry to follow the template and are more than capable of slipping in and out with precious little negative impact to the position or combinations.

The combinations were very interesting where on 20 minutes "new boy" Stockdale benefited from a wonderful Chris Farrell pass to Sexton that cracked opened Argentina. As the venue rocked my eyes stayed sharply focused on James Ryan, the new pretender to the throne.


On Friday I wondered what side he’d scrummage on and he packed down behind Furlong. Many bemoan the scrum, but to witness Furlong and Ryan dominate Los Pumas at scrum time was purely beautiful.

This combination is one of the most difficult to cultivate and Leo Cullen’s Leinster must take a bow for how well it worked on Saturday. How much energy the young secondrow expended as the tighthead secondrow is difficult to gauge but it had little impact on his performance. It wasn’t until both himself and Furlong were replaced that scrum problems started to put Ireland under pressure, leading to Juan Manuel Leguizamon’s try for Argentina’s on 70 minutes.

He wasn't overly used in the lineout but the combination of all the targets gave Rory Best plenty of options. A wee word on Best. What an impressive series he's had, quietly going about his business of leadership while his general play, scrummaging and darts were spot on.

Final word to the autumn nerd. On 09:50 Ireland’s attacking lineout in the Puma’s half was off the top from Henderson with Bundee Aki ultimately receiving and crashing up into the heart of their defence. With an array of Irish options flowing the same way, Argentina quickly manned up on the openside defence.

But Ireland were to rewind, this time with a clever use of the wiper box kick. Clearly this was a spot by Irish video analyst Mervyn Murphy in how Argentina defend off lineouts in their half. Great spot, great execution and it would have been some opener for the newest of new boys Adam Byrne had it fallen into place for a try.