Strong Ireland selection set to reflect respect Argentina are held in

Robert Baloucoune could get a run on right wing outside new halfback pairing

Robert Baloucoune and Ireland  head coach Andy Farrell during Thursday’s training session at Carton House. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Robert Baloucoune and Ireland head coach Andy Farrell during Thursday’s training session at Carton House. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

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It is a measure of the respect which Andy Farrell and his coaching staff have for Argentina, and the threat which Los Pumas pose to Ireland completing an unbeaten autumn series at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday (kick-off 2.15pm), that they are likely to unveil a strong side not far removed from the one which earned last week’s thrilling 29-20 win over New Zealand.

Conor Murray and Joey Carbery look sure to start at halfback in light of the injuries which have ruled out the starting duo in the victories over Japan and the All Blacks. This in turn would see the promotion of Craig Casey, whose three caps have amounted to 80 minutes on the pitch, and Harry Byrne, who played the last 26 minutes on his debut against the USA last July. It might also be that Robert Baloucoune will be the one surprise selection on the right wing.

That is quite a statement of faith in a pair of 22-year-olds – they were born three days apart in April 1999 – whose abilities are undoubted and who shone in their Irish under-20 days. 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.

The potential investment in Casey and Byrne to see out the game is quite a gamble in its own right, and may or may not contribute to otherwise retaining the vast bulk of the matchday squad which has been on duty to date in this series.

That will leave many in the 39-man squad disappointed, albeit the mood and quality of training in the camp has been good, a point reaffirmed by Keith Earls saying it has been “through the roof”.

So, rather than pitch a bunch of the 10 players in the squad on five caps or less all together, it looks as if those players will have to come away from the last month and resolve to be better for the experience.

Although the coaching staff would have gone into this window with a view to further blooding the likes of Tom O’Toole or Gavin Coombes – who missed the previous two weeks training due to illness – the pack may well be unchanged.

Beyond halfback, Baloucoune has apparently been training very well. If the 24-year-old is to be handed just his second Test start after a try-scoring debut against the USA in the summer it would constitute a very clear statement of faith in the Enniskillen flyer’s ability to beat opponents with his change of direction and eye for the try line.

Going beyond that could be risky.

After a trying 2021 and pointless Rugby Championship spent entirely abroad, Argentina have regrouped impressively. They pushed France all the way a fortnight ago in Paris before making only two changes for last week’s convincing win over Italy. Mario Ledesma is expected to retain a largely unchanged side when Los Pumas unveil their hand on Friday.

No less than Ireland, signing off the year with a win on Sunday is paramount.

IRELAND (possible): H Keenan; R Baloucoune, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Lowe; J Carbery, C Murray; A Porter, R Kelleher, T Furlong; J Ryan, I Henderson; C Doris, J van der Flier, J Conan.

Replacements: D Sheehan or R Herring, C Healy or D Kilcoyne, F Bealham or T O’Toole, T Beirne, P O’Mahony, C Casey, H Byrne, K Earls.

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