Sport Rugby

Saturday 30 August 2014

Tony Ward: Gilroy facing battle of inches

Tony Ward

Published 24/11/2012 | 05:00

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When the November Series fixtures were released, I cringed. No disrespect to today's visitors, but Argentina, like South Africa, albeit with less strength in depth, play the most pragmatic brand of claustrophobic, energy-sapping rugby.

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Doing whatever it takes to win is the bottom line at Test level. And given the context, the recent history between the sides, and the ranking points that will determine World Cup seedings, there's every reason for scepticism about the likely levels of entertainment today.

Perhaps it is the similarity between the nations that makes this, the 13th official Test between the countries, as fraught with pre-match tension and anxiety as ever.

The South Americans wear their hearts on their sleeves, but whatever we may lack in skill or creativity from time to time, we bow to no one in terms of passion – and yes that includes the 60-point drubbing to the All Blacks.

Accused

We may be outskilled, out-manoeuvred, outmuscled, even outclassed from time to time, but we seldom stand accused of not giving it our best shot.

Even in the sad, bad old days prior to professionalism, all teams knew that when they came to Dublin, they would be hitting a green hurricane for the best part of an hour at least. With the game going open that now extends to the full 80, as so it should.

I would like to think that the most exciting back three we have fielded for some considerable time will be given the ammunition to counter-attack this afternoon, but as Craig Gilroy will learn (and few embrace his selection more than me), Test rugby doesn't work like that.

There were acres of space afforded in Limerick seven days ago, but there will be precious few inches given up today.

I first witnessed Argentina in the flesh back in 1978. They were as strong then as they are now, driven by Hugo Porta and with free-running backs, but the real common denominator was the technical efficiency of the forwards.

This year, albeit without managing a win, they matched all three SANZAR nations in physicality in the inaugural Rugby Championship.

It is that raw power, that huge physical cohesion and bloody-mindedness that we must equal. If ever the principle of earning the right to go wide applies, it is for this clash of broadly similar rugby cultures.

Should Martin Landajo or Nicolas Sanchez kick loosely, it is imperative that Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe and exciting debutant Gilroy do what comes most natural to them, and run.

Argentina's back-three offer a threat, especially Gonzalo Camacho, but the onus is on Ireland to inject pace and take the Puma pack and half-backs away from the suffocating Springbok-type strategy they carry out so well.

Put simply, if Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and the rest control possession and tempo, as they did in Wales, but not against France, then we will be in deep trouble.

His knockers may not exactly like it, but I support Declan Kidney in this selection. Mike McCarthy was an absolute colossus a fortnight ago and is made for uncompromising battles such as this. So, too, Peter O'Mahony, while Richardt Strauss brings a different attacking energy to our often mundane sorties around the fringes.

Prime

Conor Murray upped the ante significantly in Limerick, while in Jonny Sexton we have the right man coming into his prime, but with Ronan O'Gara still there to close the game out, if required.

Paddy Jackson's breakthrough will come soon, as will Luke Marshall's, but for now, particularly without so many big players, we need all the experience we can muster.

So, irrespective of the result, this selection is right on a 'horses for courses' basis and in planning ahead for the Six Nations.

One final hope is that Keith Earls cuts loose and proves himself the creative footballer we know him to be in the position he favours.

Let's not judge him by his iconic predecessor in the No 13 shirt, but by the innate talent he is in his own right.

That, with a few mesmerising runs from Gilroy and an Ireland win, and all will be right with the world.

It's a big ask against grizzled opponents focused on sucking the life out of the Aviva.

If for no other reason than we dare not lose, I take Ireland to do it, but as ever, in this mean head-to-head, it will not be pretty.



Entertaining – I don't think so



It's always good to have a neutral take on any game, so the views of former England skipper Martin Corry are well worth recording.



In general, the ex- Leicester and Lions No 8 would tally with most in highlighting the ability of Argentina to negate any opposition, thereby emphasising the need for Ireland to front up in every facet of forward play.

Nothing new or unusual about this opinion until he states that "clashes between these two have produced close and highly entertaining games in recent times" and asks "will this one be any different?"

Close, yes, but highly entertaining? I think we'll have to argue the toss on that one.

Hopefully, the player, who (in stark contrast to former team-mate Martin Johnson), endeared himself to the Irish public forever by way of his post-anthem appreciation of the Croke Park crowd back in 2007, knows something we don't about today's encounter.



IRB hell-bent on stamping out 'cancer'



I RECENTLY made reference to Sam Allardyce's unwarranted attack on the oval code whereby he intimated that gouging and stamping appeared an acceptable part of the game.

Far from condoning such indefensible acts, rugby's authorities are hell-bent on ridding the game of any such cancer.

To that end the IRB has just confirmed that it will appeal what the governing body rightly believes to be an unduly lenient sanction handed down to All Blacks flanker Adam Thompson for stamping on the head of a Scottish opponent in the recent Murrayfield international.

Thompson was suspended for one week by judicial officer Jean Noel Couraud after a hearing process under the auspices of the Six Nations. However, in an IRB statement, this decision was taken to task, leaving little room for ambiguity.

It read: "As custodians of rugby worldwide, the IRB has a duty to protect its image, values and integrity together with the welfare of players at all levels in order that the sport can continue its unprecedented growth and welcome more men, women and children to the rugby family.

"At the very heart of this mission is the application of the disciplinary process. So after careful consideration, the IRB strongly believes the sanction of one week to be unduly lenient for this particular act of foul play and not aligned with the sanctions handed down in similar cases.

"The IRB firmly believes it is in the best interests of the game and its integrity to appeal the Thompson decision."

Rugby does not claim any higher moral ground but I believe this response leaves little room for doubt as to the utter determination at the highest level to see justice consistently and universally applied.

Irish Independent

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