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Risk of ranking oblivion provides motivation for Ireland

ALL to play for against Pumas.

This is it. This is the big one. The biggest one of the season! This is no overstatement unless Ireland makes it all the way to a Grand Slam decider away to Italy at the Olympic Stadium on March 16.

That is extremely unlikely. The transition from five-time losers - this is the sort of streak that not even a streaker would want - into Grand Slam champions is about as likely as a politician answering the question 'it' is asked.

This is also going to be brutally hard, a battle deep, down in the trenches and the Irish forwards, particularly, will be up to their necks in hand-to-hand combat.

There is a body of opinion that Ireland should be direct, fight fire with fire, turn the bully into the bullied. It is a fair argument. But, is it merely feeding the fire?

When The Pumas were halved in The Rugby Championship they were met on the gain line with unyielding ferocity and driven onto the back-foot.

But, they were also out-thought in the finer details of the game. The use of decoy runners in a manner Ireland have not accessed this autumn will be critical to the cause.

For all the hoopla about The Springboks, the Irish management knew that the Gods were conspiring to make Argentina the moment of truth.

There is nothing coach Santiago Phelan would like more than to make this a macho war of muscle. He has at his disposal a beast of a pack of forwards and warrior-type backs with which to apply pressure.

There is also the emergence of strike runners in behind who can hurt Ireland. Juan Imhoff and Gonzalo Camacho are formidable foes. The Pumas are no longer a one-way street. There is, however, a suspicion that the retirement of a cluster of hard-nosed front rowers could make this traditional asset an area of liability.

The Ireland scrum will have to establish parity, at least. This they can do. And, maybe, there might be more in it for them. Mike Ross will be crucial.

The breakdown is the single most talked about area of the game. Turnover ball is golden. Ireland will have to protect their own and poach what they can.

From there, decoys, deception, game variation are the way to cut open one of the meanest defences in world rugby, backed up by the best scramble defence around.

The vital difference in inches on the gain line could be decided by Ireland's need. It is greater. They can slide right out of the top-8 and into probable 2015 World Cup oblivion that a third-seed would bring in tow.

IRELAND v ARGENTINA, AVIVA STADIUM, TOMORROW, 2.0

IRELAND: S Zebo; T Bowe, K Earls, G D'Arcy, C Gilroy; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross, M McCarthy, D Ryan, P O'Mahony, C Henry, J Heaslip (capt).

ARGENTINA: JM Hernandez; G Camacho, M Bosch, S Fernandez, J Imhoff; N Sanchez, M Landajo; M Ayerza, E Guinazu, M Bustos, M Carizza, JF Cabello, JM Fernandez-Lobbe (capt), JM Leguizamon, L Senatore.

Verdict: Ireland


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