Sunday 21 January 2018

Heaslip worth his weight in gold for irish

If a 20-point defeat to New Zealand failed to do Ireland justice last week, then yesterday's 20-point victory over Argentina certainly flattered to deceive in reverse proportion.

Given a promising opening half, in which they put together some encouraging phases, not least for Stephen Ferris' well-executed opening try, allied to some amazing goal-kicking glitches by the usually reliable Felipe Contepomi, this was, in many ways, an opportunity lost by Ireland.

And no, we are not being negative here. We are well aware that this represented a record score in this ultra-competitive, often nasty fixture. And, while it would be wrong to say this game lacked bite, nonetheless, the feistiness we normally associate with the Latin-Celtic clash, for whatever reason, was kept in check on this occasion.

Perhaps it was the sub-zero temperatures in the stadium or maybe the sad loss of five young rugby players' lives in recent days in a road accident in Argentina -- either way the exchanges were muted by recent standards.

Most worrying from Kidney's perspective was the inability after the interval to kick on.

A 16-point cushion at the break should have provided the incentive and confidence to drive the advantage home. Instead, it was the Pumas, save for the start and finish of the second half, who effectively bossed the game.

Ireland did not help them-selves in that period with some aimless kicking out of hand. Give a southern hemisphere side free possession and it is mighty hard work to get it back.

Fortunately for Ireland, this is an Argentina side in transition, one a long way short of that which finished third in the world in France in '07.

On the positive side, for all the second-half possession the Pumas enjoyed, their only return was a measly six points by way of Contepomi's right boot.

Ireland defended well, both first up and on the scramble, and managed to finish the game firmly in the ascendancy, crossing twice late on -- first through Keith Earls, though his effort was incredibly disallowed, and then Gordon D'Arcy with the most sumptuous chip and gather, a la Contepomi, for the icing on this Irish cake.

In individual terms, D'Arcy was one of a number to stand out. Both Cian Healy and Sean Cronin had their ball-carrying moments in the loose, while, as a unit, along with Tony Buckley, the Irish front line stood up to arguably the meanest and certainly the most experienced in the front-row business. The scrum creaked at times, but never, ever crumbled.

Ferris, too, was on the first-half rampage, but it was Jamie Heaslip who, yet again, proved the master over the 80 minutes, most particularly in times of potential crisis.

Heaslip is to Kidney and this Irish pack what Richie McCaw continues to be in terms of influence for Graham Henry and the All Blacks. In a strange sort of way, the absence of Paul O'Connell has done Heaslip a power of good. He is our go-to player.

D'Arcy, too, was immense yesterday in that regard, taking midfield responsibility at times when it was most needed.

The other plus was the speed and accuracy of Peter Stringer's lightning service -- but that Kidney knows he can take for granted.

On the downside was second-half loose kicking, which was tactically and practically inept.

The other area of concern -- for the second week running -- was the restarts. For or against, we are still nowhere close to where we need to be.

Here, O'Connell's loss is massive. Greater hang time, better timing, whatever it takes, there remains much room for improvement in this key area.

Despite the arrival of Eoin Reddan and Ronan O'Gara in the final stanza, Stringer and Jonny Sexton did enough to justify first-up selection.

The race for the Munster No 9 shirt will most likely determine who starts against Italy in Rome in the Six Nations. Whatever else, Stringer's name is now back in the frame.

Irish Independent

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