Saturday 21 September 2019

Bernard Jackman: 'Strong scrum not enough to beat All Blacks'

Ireland players applaud supporters following the Guinness Series International match between Ireland and Argentina at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ireland players applaud supporters following the Guinness Series International match between Ireland and Argentina at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Bernard Jackman

Job done. It wasn't pretty but a 10th home win on the trot is not to be trifled with - even if for a long time yesterday Ireland really struggled to impose themselves on Argentina.

Ireland went in 15-14 ahead at the break, but only after a non-vintage first-half performance. I imagine that the Irish coaching staff would have been keen to get the team into the dressing room to fix the areas of concern.

Our discipline was not of the level that we have come to expect, with some needless penalties for tackles off the ball conceded. We were vulnerable in the air, which is uncharacteristic.

Apart from the scrum there was no area of the game where we looked completely at ease and maybe that was to be expected given that the squad were split between the 12 who stayed at home and the group that went to Chicago to play Italy last weekend. Our cohesion was definitely not at the usual level and the atmosphere was quite muted in the stadium, which probably didn't help the home team.

It was a big blow to Ireland to see Sean O'Brien leave the field in the first half with an arm injury, especially given his struggles over the last year. However, Dan Leavy had a big impact on the game in the second half through some key turnovers won at the breakdown and strong carries. He did his case to start next week against the All Blacks no harm.

We won't have it as easy at scrum-time next Saturday, though.

Sometimes they say be careful what you wish for and that is potentially the case for the Argentinian team who played with a chip on their shoulder back in the late 1990s and early 2000s to pressure the powers that be in World Rugby to give them better support financially and in terms of their competition structures to be able to prosper long term.

There was never a professional domestic competition in Argentina to support the international game and historically their best players emigrated to play, earning a living predominantly in France.

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They now have the majority of their best players at home and have a team - the Jaguares - in the Super Rugby competition who contributed all 23 of the match-day squad last night.

The Pumas are now in the Rugby Championship and are being exposed to quality opposition much more regularly. This exposure to southern hemisphere teams has seen the Pumas change their style of rugby and they have foregone the scrum/maul/ kicking game that they mastered to a more ball-in-hand type of game.

The famed Argentinian scrum is now a weakness and you can be sure that their new coach, former hooker Mario Ledesma, will be desperately trying to shore that up as quickly as possible.

The scrum was their Achilles heel in the first half and the source of two tries for Ireland, one directly when Kieran Marmion made the most of an Irish scrum taking the Pumas back-row out of the match with a huge shove. The try by Bundee Aki came from an Argentinian put-in that Ireland's pack won a penalty from on the Pumas' line.

Joe Schmidt used his bench earlier than normal, bringing players into the fray before the hour mark. The replacements were excellent - they played a key role in the win.

We had our most sustained period of pressure when we went 18 phases in the lead-up to the third try from Luke McGrath - on for the injured Marmion - which again came from a dominant Irish scrum under the posts.

There was speculation during the week that Will Addison would start when he was sent out to do press on Tuesday. Schmidt decided to go with Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw, but an injury to the latter in the warm-up meant Addison got to start. Addison was tested defensively in the first half as Argentina ran some well-executed backline strikes into the 12/13 channel and they made gains in that space.

Despite the Irish performance not being exceptional, the way the game unfolded will be useful in the future as we got ourselves into a difficult spot and showed the character and composure to turn the game around and get the win.

England's narrow defeat to the All Blacks will boost the confidence levels of the Irish fans but we need to take into account it was the All Blacks' first real run-out this November as, like Ireland, they had split their squad for the Test match they played in Japan last week.

The wind and rain in Twickenham would have affected their attacking game too and it will be hard for Ireland to read too much into their performance yesterday.

One thing is certain: Ireland will need to be a lot more accurate in all aspects of their game bar the scrum if they are to win a second match against the All Blacks.

I expect tomorrow morning's Irish review to be harsh but it's a testament to how high this team's standards have become that we beat Argentina by 11 points and are left a little underwhelmed.

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