Irish Lion faces a big few weeks after falling out of favour
Here are five things we learned from Ireland's 28-19 win over Argentina last Saturday.
1 Schmidt’s options widen across the board
Joe Schmidt wanted to test the depth of his squad and he will be quite happy with what he has seen.
The younger players have slotted in well, and while some have impressed more than others, Schmidt will feel that he can rely on them come the Six Nations.
Jacob Stockdale has emerged into a real superstar, James Ryan will be all the better for the experience, while Adam Byrne acquitted himself well without ever really igniting.
In total, four new caps were handed out, while several new combinations were tried. It’s exactly what this month should have been used for and Schmidt made clever use of his resources.
The Ireland boss will have a fair idea of what his starting XV will be for the Six Nations opener against France but there are certainly a couple of positions up for grabs.
The midfield options are as healthy as they have been in some time. Chris Farrell was much improved after his debut against Fiji, while Garry Ringrose and hopefully Jared Payne are still to come back into the frame.
They are the kind of selection headaches that any coach wants. The key now is for everyone to be fit and firing come February.
2 Furlong maintains his remarkable form
Earlier this month, when World Rugby announced the shortlist for player of the year, Tadhg Furlong was a notable omission.
It’s the 17th year that the awards have taken place, and still no prop has ever even been nominated.
Furlong’s level of consistency should have broken that run, and against Argentina, he was excellent again.
It says a lot about the Wexford native that people have come to expect him to dominate opponents at scrum time but it is his work around the pitch with ball in hand that continues to impress.
At the start of the month, Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira said that Furlong was the best tighthead in Europe, There are very few better than him in the world right now.
3 Momentum firmly behind Ireland
Three wins from three has set Ireland up nicely for the Six Nations.
A lot can happen between now and the opener in Paris but the feel-good atmosphere that was created this month will be such that the players will be relishing coming back into camp.
Ireland have now gone seven games unbeaten – a run that stretches back to the Six Nations defeat in Cardiff.
No-one will be getting ahead of themselves, particularly because the quality of opposition must be taken into account, but at the same time, Schmidt’s side deserve credit for how they are currently going about their business.
4 Argentina figure out Ireland’s defence
For all of the plaudits that Ireland’s defence have rightly come in for this month, it was somewhat concerning that they conceded three second-half tries – two of which were very similar.
The line-speed that Andy Farrell demands of the players has undoubtedly improved the defence but when the players are quick to rush up, they leave themselves open to clever grubber-kicks in behind.
Argentina exposed that twice and it cost Ireland. You can be sure that other teams took careful note.
5 McGrath faces big few weeks with Leinster
For all the ground that several players made up over the course of the three games, there is no doubt that Jack McGrath was the one who lost the most.
Cian Healy has re-established himself as Ireland’s first-choice loosehead. It will be interesting if he does the same for Leinster when they play Exeter in a fortnight.
McGrath remains a world-class operator but he really needs to quickly rediscover his form as Schmidt has favoured Dave Kilcoyne ahead of him on the bench.
It has been a hugely frustrating month for McGrath but he has it in him to bounce back.