Tuesday 11 December 2018

Tony Ward: 'Toner is the right man to partner Ryan in critical second-row battle against All Blacks'

'Iain Henderson did not do enough to merit automatic reselection and is now under severe pressure from Devin Toner (pictured) to start' Photo: Sportsfile
'Iain Henderson did not do enough to merit automatic reselection and is now under severe pressure from Devin Toner (pictured) to start' Photo: Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Of our four fixtures against southern-hemisphere opposition, the visit of the Pumas is the one I look forward to the least.

Whether it relates to Lens in '99 I don't know. That was a watershed match in terms of professional rugby and its development in this country.

I remember having a long and deep conversation with Eddie Coleman in Charles de Gaulle Airport on the journey back.

He, as a prominent member of the IRFU at that time, was apoplectic.

In retrospect it was the defeat that launched our move into the 21st century and highlighted what would be required if we were to become a credible rugby-playing nation on the professional stage.

History records Argentina winning 28-24 before moving on to Lansdowne and defeat in the quarter-final to the French.

Apart from Warren Gatland's mind-numbing 12-man lineout at the death, the abiding memory is of a game played with a nasty undercurrent.

And so it has been on almost every occasion the sides have met since.

We continue to be of similar standards but it is a fixture I cannot warm to.

That play-off game was almost 20 years ago and memories of an ugly encounter still linger.

Despite winning relatively comfortably on Saturday in terms of points, it was more of the same.

These games produce the odd magic moment, but despite the lead changing hands six times it was a scruffy encounter with hardly a semblance of excitement.

The atmosphere in the Aviva for a kick-off at the optimum social time was deadbeat, with the only miracle being that some numbskull didn't ignite the dreaded Mexican wave.

On this occasion it would actually have been appropriate; nothing reflects apathy on the terrace more.

Maybe I, like so many, have become complacent in not just expecting us to win but to do so with a little bit of style and aplomb.

Despite recording our 12th win to their six on Saturday, it was drudgery personified.

It was high on endeavour but low in quality and the ugly chemistry between the sides was simmering just below the surface.

It is a fixture I categorise alongside the French in the Six Nations. Given the parallel history and tradition, based fundamentally on flair and a powerful scrum, the visit of either should be a joy, but it is now quite the opposite.

We were the better side and deserved to win by the margin we did.

James Ryan was absolutely immense and was the game's outstanding individual by a mile.

As a unit we were disjointed, with all three tries more reflective of individual opportunism than any cohesive structure in their creation.

Our scrum was good, our lineout not so and Rory Best's leadership skills ensure he will remain as commander in chief for one more week at least, despite some having reservations about his form.

The introduction of Sean Cronin on the hour needs little elaboration, but the arrival of Dan Leavy does.

One cannot but feel for Sean O'Brien given the severity of this latest injury but the Peter O'Mahony/Leavy/CJ Stander triumvirate is surely now set in stone.

I say that with massive respect for Josh van der Flier, who will now be to Leavy - given the physical demands of his scavenging role - what Cronin is to Best.

There is still an issue as to who packs down alongside Ryan who, incredibly, was a rookie just 12 months ago.

Iain Henderson did not do enough to merit automatic reselection and is now under severe pressure from Devin Toner to start and from Tadhg Beirne as the second-row replacement or vice versa.

Either way, there is a huge call to be made at lock given it is also New Zealand's strongest sector.

Were the call mine it would be the same front-row to start with Toner alongside Ryan and Beirne the impact sub.

It is tough on Henderson but such are the stakes on this week-by-week basis.

Behind the scrum both No 9s stated their case and in the absence of Conor Murray, where I trust common sense will prevail, either will do for me.

Johnny Sexton had a poor outing but will up the ante significantly this weekend.

Will Addison did well but Bundee Aki or Robbie Henshaw will start alongside Garry Ringrose, fitness permitting, with Rob Kearney at full-back and the wings remaining the same.

Competition: Independent.ie has two pairs of tickets to the sold out Ireland vs New Zealand game at the Aviva this Saturday. Enter here.

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