Liam Toland: Plenty for Ireland to work on ahead of ultimate test
For all the positive field possession, Ireland struggled to break Argentina’s resistance
For so long it looked like the scrum was going to dictate the difference but then Argentina scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli ‘box kicked’ on 60 minutes. Exiting from deep made sense, but the kick neither found touch nor green grass or provided a contestable opportunity.
Instead it landed in Jordan Larmour’s bread basket; the easiest of catches with tonnes of options open to him. It was an extremely poor kick and Argentina suffered for over four minutes as Ireland controlled field position and possession while piling on pressure, including a brilliant lineout steal from Peter O’Mahony – ably assisted by Devin Toner and Tadhg Furlong.
Why throw into his space? Are we the only ones aware of O’Mahony’s lineout steals?
Yes, Luke McGrath darted over from the subsequent scrum, so a scrum was involved again akin to earlier scores, but at 18-17 a one point game was lost from Cubelli’s poor clearance kick.
More’s the pity as Ireland’s process pounded Argentinean pomp.
As always, I wanted Ireland to win and in doing so set up this coming weekend but I couldn’t help marvel at what the Los Pumas could do with ball in hand.
Almost all of them are so comfortable carrying into contact on their terms, much of which is based on their set-up in deceiving the defence until the very last moment. And when there’s indecision the ball carrier can ride the contact in a manner that ekes out yards and space to keep the flow going.
Ireland also had their methodology, especially in the opening forays where Kieran Marmion had two forward targets to hit off the breakdown and consistently chose the outer option.
This option was CJ Stander, who in many cases was able to get an easier target than the inside carrier would. There was an intent, at least early on, to get Jacob Stockdale involved as often as possible.
From the kick-off Ireland comfortably maintained possession and visited both sides of the pitch with clever little plays. But when Ireland under-resource the breakdown Southern Hemisphere teams can pounce, as the Argentineans did to win that first kickable penalty; 0-3.
The Irish lineout was also full of slight adjustments. The first three attacking lineouts deep in Argentina territory were pre-called six-man set-ups with Sean O’Brien standing at scrumhalf and the target varied to the tail or the front.
The lineout suffered – an obvious insight into the ‘first’ international Test of the season where forgiveness can be afforded to the new team, especially given the consistent run Argentina have had over recent weeks.
That said, in this ruthless environment it poses three key questions. The unit selection, the shot selection and the hooker selection.
Another attacking lineout in the top left-hand corner was the first full man five metres out but again with variation. This time to make the full complement, Stockdale slotted into the front prop position.
The idea, I assume, was to get him running off the tail as soon as the ball was secured in the middle. Unfortunately, it was spilled and never got to Stockdale. But it looked interesting!
The nuisance from both teams, although a negative in terms of creativity, was still wonderful to watch.
Stander mustered the energy twice late on to spot an off the top lineout from Argentina. As the ball was palmed down in the 68th min to sub scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou, Stander was alive to the dangers in midfield where he sprinted like his life depended on it to smash Pablo Matera as the ball arrived.
The sight of his arrival was enough to distract Matera but the Stander contact forced the spill. Stander repeated the same effort in the 79th minute.
What about the visitors’ defence; twice I noted Stander entering heavy traffic (73:25 and 73:53) and being completely rag-dolled by the ferocity of the hit. The Argentina midfield also led with some great reads to nullify the Irish creativity. What about their double hit on Furlong? How the Irish prop survived but up he jumped and got back to business.
But in the end it is a game of rugby and with the football we have much to learn from Argentina, the world’s ninth-placed team, as we face the first-placed team New Zealand this weekend.
For instance, wasn’t Emiliano Boffelli a wonder to watch as he sailed through the air to field an Irish kick or when he popped up from a dead ruck to carve an opening.
Ramiro Moyano also managed to mimic so many Irish plays as he pilfered from the Irish receiving pods to regain the Argentina kick-off.
The Irish scrum gave us huge reward. This will not be the case come Saturday which means the Irish lineout must improve.
On a point of note, that opening Marmion try that wasn’t converted left the score 5-3. A penalty advantage had been given, but a penalty try would be 7-3; just a thought.
However, in enjoying 61 per cent possession and a very positive 67 per cent field position, scores come slowly for Ireland. So with an obvious injury challenge and cause for possible alterations, there’s positive work to be done to bridge the gap between first and second in the world.