Saturday 20 January 2018

Our shared woes won't take bite out of Pumas

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There was this parsimonious man who died recently through no fault of his own. Luckily enough, he's far enough away from us that I can write about him with impunity.

He was a miserable hoor, even back in the days when it wasn't fashionable. One of his erstwhile neighbours told me the dead man's family were mad for money.

"He won't be fresh in the grave," remarked the man from over near them, "before they'll be attacking the mattress with a knife."

No more than ourselves, the Argentinians are bad enough at the hoarding. There was a time, not that long ago, when their housing market crashed and peso multi-millionaires went broke if they bought a sliced pan.

I have a funny feeling the IRFU might have messed up their income forecasts and we might well lose some very high-profile players to foreign clubs. Most of the Argentina squad play abroad. Felipe Contepomi is one of the highest earners in world rugby. Toulon are paying him enough to bail us out for at least an hour.

Contepomi left Leinster when he completed his medical degree and post-grad training. He managed to pass exams, work long shifts and still play Heineken Cup and international rugby at a very high level.

Contepomi suffered a serious injury against Munster, and for a while it seemed he was never going to get back to the levels he reached beforehand. Then, in June of last year, he scored 31 points in Argentina's 41-13 victory over Grand Slam champions France. Contepomi is only one of a number of quality players in their ranks.

They are vastly experienced, whereas Ireland have a lot less caps in our front five, where age and savvy are a huge advantage. Argentina have, more or less, the same pack that bludgeoned its way to a World Cup semi-final in 2007.

Argentina had a tough game against France last week, but our match against New Zealand has taken its toll in terms of injuries, and the players who are still in one piece tackled themselves into exhaustion last weekend.

Our backline is a new one, even though I'm certain the Sexton-Stringer (pictured) combination will work very well. Expect the ball to reach the wings before the opposition. Still, it takes time for players to gel, so we remain very much a work in progress.

It grieved me when some so-called experts were ripping the team to shreds after only two games of the Autumn Series. There was such doom and gloom after Samoa that you'd swear we'd only beaten a couple of grass-skirted natives with nothing in their nap sacks but banana sandwiches and periwinkles.

This was a terrible insult to Samoa. If you actually watched the game a number of times over, you could see just how good they were. They gave England a very hard game last week.

Unless we beat Argentina well, the critics will be at it again. France only beat Argentina by a few points in France. We seem to get too high after a good performance and too low after a bad one. The fact is, this is the fourth really tough game in a row for Ireland and is invaluable experience for the World Cup, when we will face a similarly gruelling schedule.

Stephen Ferris and Donncha O'Callaghan were very good last week. Sean Cronin was excellent in the loose and the scrum was reasonably good, with Cian Healy having a massive game around the red zone near his own line. On another positive note, both O'Driscoll and D'Arcy proved they can still mix it at the very highest level.

The All Blacks' backline failed to score and Sexton pulled the play over and back across the pitch like a curtain and, just as crucially, he held the channel between nine and 10 to zero line breaks.

Let's not get carried away, as the flotsam said to the jetsam. It was a good performance and if we continue to improve we will have a very effective running game in place by the World Cup, which, by the way, doesn't start until the Saturday of the Listowel Races. The cheek of them to clash with our big week.

It will take time to learn how to adopt to the new rules at the breakdown. The coach is doing a fine job, but if there's one thing we learned from the All Blacks game, it is that we must not kick away possession to top-class opposition.

Curiously, a little bit more kicking early on and we might have beaten South Africa and then, when we got within two points of them, we kicked away possession when we should have kept ball in hand.

The weather forecast is ambiguous -- much like the economic predictions before the hurricane. But, reading between the lines, where there is no writing, I'd say it will be bad. Advantage Argentina. We may not be able to play our passing game.

It would be nice to win and I sense the momentum is with us after our last game but let no one tell me we're going to put 20 points up on Argentina, because we have always had serious trouble with these boys. It's curious that there has never been any great bother between Argentina and England on the rugby field yet they get on very badly with us, with whom they have so much in common, such as incompetent politicians and a great love of dancing.

We were going to finish off with that line but we must forensically examine the mattress story. How could you put money actually in a mattress? Under yes, but not in. Do you know something, I think there's an awful lot of lies told in this country.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport