Sport Rugby

Saturday 19 August 2017

Another war of attrition will test limit of our resources

The All Blacks exposed our shortcomings but there were positives too, says Jim Glennon

A fter last week's game against the All Blacks, the reality is that we find ourselves 20 points off the pace of the real contenders for the 2011 World Cup. And the main reason for this is that physically we are not up to it.

This deficiency was evident just by sizing up the two teams before a ball was even kicked. The list of walking wounded that we find ourselves with speaks for itself -- the Ireland squad bears more similarities to a field hospital than a camp for a group of elite sports people.

Add in the rugby played and the attrition rate of the players last week, where we were always coming off second best in the collisions, and it doesn't leave much room for argument. But there is little we can do to counteract the problem. It's what teams at the top level like the All Blacks and South Africa trade on. They get and maintain the edge by being physically dominant and capitalising on the psychological consequences of that superiority.

And there doesn't seem to be any limit to their resources. They have massive strength in depth, an area where we seem to be found wanting. If we were honest, how many of our players would have made the All Blacks touring squad, not the starting 15, the touring squad?

While the results of the November tests haven't gone the way we would have liked, we are still not in a particularly bad place. Some of the other results put some perspective on events for us. Maybe it's not as bad as it seems. I think we are probably in a good place looking to the Six Nations.

And, in fairness, if you take a step back from the World Cup for a moment, it was an outstanding performance last Saturday by our own standards and it should be recognised as such. Ultimately, it was one of our best performances over the last number of years.

Lessons have been learned from the last few games too. The key one is obviously at outhalf. My colours are nailed firmly to the mast there, they have been for a while, and my feelings on the selection were compounded last Saturday. If Ireland want to play the game plan executed against New Zealand, the one which appears to me to be our best option, then Jonathan Sexton is crucial to that. Last weekend, however, did little to conceal the problems we have up front. It was a relatively good showing but it just wasn't good enough. We are majorly inadequate in the front five and I suspect that that area will be seriously tested by England and France in the Six Nations and by that stage it may be too late to fix the problem.

On the positive side, Paul O'Connell played for Young Munster on Friday night so we have his return to look forward to. Declan Kidney will be hoping that he also plays for Munster this week.

And we can't ignore the fact that the scrumhalf position needs to be nailed down too. Tomás O'Leary's return will be a welcome one and he too had a run-out on Friday.

If Sexton is as crucial as the vast majority of us believe him to be, then scrumhalf becomes particularly important as well. I'm not saying that Tomás O'Leary will be the man but I am saying that the more options we have there the better.

In relation to today's game, no one needs reminding about the rivalry between us and the Argentinians over the years. They are just one place behind us in the world rankings -- we're seventh and they are eighth -- and ever since the1990 World Cup when they beat us they have been a real bogey side.

For some reason there seems to be a dismissive attitude in Ireland towards Argentina. We almost look down on them as interlopers, we treat them a bit like the Samoans, who are a side that don't even come close to measuring up to them. The harsh reality for us is that Argentina have shown themselves to be every bit as effective as Ireland -- just look at the last World Cup -- and have been a thorn in our side for years.

There are lots of familiar names in their squad as the vast majority of them play their rugby in Europe; in fact, I think all but two of the selected 15 reside there.

Our familiarity with Argentina has a lot to do with a certain number ten, Felipe Contepomi, who will captain the Pumas today. And he is not the only player who has

lined out for Leinster among the Argentinian ranks. Mariano Gallarza will play second row today and he has had very little exposure since he arrived at Leinster but will get a shot at proving himself on the big stage.

The sales department in Lansdowne Road won't thank me for saying this but we can expect a pretty dull encounter today. However, it will again be a huge physical challenge for Ireland because that's the way Argentina play and the game is coming off the back of three other full internationals in three weeks.

To have played four successive internationals in November against four hugely physical teams definitely has to be a first for Irish rugby. I actually think if you were to pick four of the most physically demanding teams in world rugby, all four of these would be up there, and that includes Samoa because of the nature of the game that they play.

Overall, an awful lot will depend on the physical and mental condition of the Irish team going into the game and I wouldn't for a minute expect a win to be a foregone conclusion. Ultimately, we have to hope that these four weeks will end with our international side in better fettle than when the month started.

jglennon@independent.ie

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