This Ireland side will not allow standards to drop in the absence of some big names. Schmidt has developed real squad depth over the past few seasons and Sunday is an opportunity for Henderson, Henry and Murphy to seize the challenge of a future without the ‘golden generation’ and write their own history. The question is how will Argentina measure up against us?
Ireland’s opponents this coming Sunday are a team who have played some exhilarating rugby in the World Cup thus far. Argentina have adapted a free flowing, offloading style of attacking rugby which is sure to cause problems to an Irish defensive system that has allowed an average of 5 clean breaks this year, in matches against top level opponents. Ireland have trusted their scramble defence and looked to bend rather than break, however against a side with Argentina’s ability to offload in the tackle and who run excellent support lines, Joe Schmidt’s side must be cautious.
While results have been few and far between, Argentina have undoubtedly been strengthened by the experience of playing in the Rugby Championship for the past two seasons, exposing them to regular top level competition for the first time. The addition of an Argentinian based Super Rugby club from next season will also strengthen a nation which has for a long time been held back due to the lack of a centrally based professional system, with most of their best players plying their trade in Europe.
A key player to watch for will be Nicholas Sanchez at outhalf, who will be leaving Toulon to link up with the new Argentine Super Rugby side following the World Cup. Having developed under the coaching of Johnny Wilkinson for the past two seasons, bluster about ‘Latin flair’ and the history of skirmishes between these two rugby nations will be less important, come Sunday lunchtime, than the assuredness offered by Sanchez at ten. He is an elite level outhalf, with a backline possessing a wealth of skill and talent around him and he has spent the past two seasons learning from the greatest game manager in the history of the sport. If Sanchez goes well, so too Argentina.
Tuculet from fullback and Hernandez now playing at inside centre are game breakers in the purest sense. Ireland must contain them to avoid ending up on the wrong side of a YouTube highlight reel. With all of this talent in the backline, Argentina have not moved away from their tradition of a strong scrum and possess a pack of forwards with skill, athleticism and the most important ingredient for an international pack, a touch of mongrel in their soul. That ferocity will be played out at the breakdown where Lobbe and the captain, Creevy, will look to lead the assault on an Irish team which strangled France last weekend, holding onto 71% possession in the second half.
How do Ireland win?
– The defensive line must hold as, given enough space, Tuculet et al are capable of slicing us open and scoring from anywhere.
– The trend in recent games of Ireland holding onto over 60% possession will need to continue as Schmidt’s team tend to grind opponents down with multiple phases before delivering the knockout blow.
– Ireland must kick their goals.
Prediction: Ireland by 10 in a brutal encounter.