Saturday 16 December 2017

Street-smart Ireland to avoid ambush on trip into the unknown

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt speaks to players ahead of their opening test game against Argentina
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt speaks to players ahead of their opening test game against Argentina
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Rarely in recent times have Ireland played a Test match where so much was unknown before kick-off.

Both at home and here in Argentina they are expected to comfortably win both Tests on this tour, but until they actually go out and face the opposition and find out exactly what they're taking on, they remain in the dark.

In this age of forensic analysis, they have done their best to cobble together footage and have pored over the mainly locally-based Pumas' recent wins over Uruguay and Chile, doing as much research as possible, but still they are not sure what lies ahead.

Joe Schmidt and his coaching team have concerns over the pitch and would like to have had more time to prepare rather than the two training sessions and a captain's run the brief schedule has allowed since they landed on Monday.

But such is life on tour and with the calibre of player the New Zealander has selected, he will expect there is enough in the Irish ranks to get the job done.

"It is unusual," Andrew Trimble admitted after yesterday's run-out at the Estadio Centenario.

"Because a lot of them are not household names and because we don't see a lot of Argentinian club rugby at home it could make you be more relaxed, but Joe doesn't tend to let that be the case.

"I think the unknown factor is something that everybody is a little bit apprehensive about."

If that keeps them on their toes, then Schmidt will be happy.

Given the state of the pitch at this lower league football ground and the confined space between the end-lines and a brick wall, they'll also have to have their wits about them.

What we do know is that the Six Nations champions go into the game with a mixture of tried and tested stalwarts of the recent campaign and a number of new faces under pressure to impress.

With most to gain and lose in equal measure are Darren Cave at outside-centre and Simon Zebo on the wing, while Felix Jones, Robbie Diack, Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy and Luke Marshall will hope to make an impression on Schmidt, whose tendency to back those who take their chance will have been noted by those who watched the Six Nations from afar.

Those who were involved will point to the need to use their success and kick on from lifting the trophy.

They won't talk about the World Cup just yet, but there is a sense of momentum behind Ireland right now that a trip to the wilds of northern Argentina could stem, and the likes of Jonathan Sexton and Paul O'Connell are key to sustaining the roll.

Against an Argentinian team lacking most of their big names apart from fly-half Nicolas Sanchez and one or two others, with limited experience and also in unfamiliar territory at a venue hosting its first Test match, the reasonable expectation is that Ireland will win pulling up.

But the lack of cohesion allowed by the preparation coupled with the fact that the tourists are so far out of their comfort zone against a committed host brings back memories of the struggles against the United States in Houston in the corresponding fixture last season.

They should win, but it may not be as one-sided as the bookies and the locals suggest.

Verdict: Ireland



Irish Independent

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