Monday, November 12, 2018

IRELAND-28 ARGENTINA-17



A territory kick from Johnny Sexton in the 68th minute summed up Ireland's evening perfectly. The Pumas had possession around the halfway line and were working their way through the phases, trying to find a way through the Irish cordon of tacklers, which was holding up well on this occasion. Dan Leavy was biding his time as always and when he found the right breakdown, he grabbed hold of the ball in the tackle, not letting go until he was able to turn around and brazenly place it back for his side. This meant we had a few seconds of Argentinian transition to play with, and Sexton had no hesitation in aiming for the acres of space he could see in their 22. But the kick went off the side of his boot and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who felt it was either going to go out on the full or straight to their left winger, as it was heading his way. As luck would have it, the kick arced perfectly over Moyano's head and bounced into touch. The outcome evoked a loud cheer from the Aviva Stadium crowd, though a close up of Sexton's reaction showed he was far from satisfied. Yet while the accuracy was lacking, we still got close to the result we wanted, though we wouldn't want to chance that every time, especially next weekend. As went that kick, so went Ireland's evening. And I have to say that while I wasn't happy at all watching the match live, the second time around I found loads more positives…no doubt knowing the result helped a lot! I actually thought we weren't far off perfect Schmitball for the first 9 minutes and 36 seconds. I thought they scored first? I hear you cry. Well I never said it was totally perfect, though when Sanchez kicked over the penalty after 2 minutes, it was not only his second touch of the match, but also his team's. They clearly watched Italy put most of their kickoffs straight to Jacob Stockdale in Chicago the week before, after which he'd bust his way out of the 22. So instead they sent it as far away from him as they could, to his opposite winger Keith Earls no less. What do we do? We work it through some phases, create space on our left wing, ship it to Stockdale, who bust his way out of our 22 anyway. We then do it all over again, back and forth across the pitch for the Ulsterman to make another decent gain until Jordan Larmour carries it into contact and gets jackled to a penalty by centre Matias Orlando, which Sanchez dispatched over the bar for 3 points. This clearly made us hungry to have the ball back so on the restart Sexton tried one short down the middle for Will Addison, a late, late replacement for Henshaw and thus an interesting choice for a play like this, to chase. The move didn't pay off at first but it wasn't long before Peter O’Mahony earned a jackling penalty of his own and this gave us a lineout at their 22. Oh, a lineout…well we were crap at those on the day so we probably lost it, you might be thinking. Actually we lost “just” three on the day, and this wasn't one of them. Tadhg Furlong barged his way into their 22 and we soon won a penalty at the breakdown, one that looked easily kick able for Sexton but he showed our intentions to prove the bookies’ 18-point spread right by kicking for the corner. Again the setpiece was ok for us and we even won another penalty, this time at the maul and put it back into touch for another go, winning the third line out as well. Now we have a drive on and we get it well over the line, only there's too many arses in the way for officials to tell if the ball has been grounded so we're back for a 5m scrum. Here is one area we had the most control of the night. On our first put in the ball reached CJ Stander and the pack was slowly marching forward, the ref's arm was extended, and scrum half Kieran Marmion was waiting to see if we could get it to the line but then spotted a chance to get it the rest of the way himself and took it. Yes, we had shipped an early score but look at the rest from that opening spell…decent exit from 22, strong jackle turnover, lineouts working well, scrum even better, and now a try on the board. Once Johnny pops over this conversion then we can crack on with adding to our lead… Now you know why I was so precise in saying 9 minute 36 seconds. That was the moment Sexton's boot met the ball for the extra two points and it was an absolute stinker of a kick. In fact just before the try when we had a penalty advantage, he tried a little dink over the top that didn't fall just right either. Maybe Sexton's tendency to perfection is a catalyst for the side? Once he's on song anything is possible and the rest cind it easier play their part? Or maybe the miss was more of a sign to the opposition that they still have a chance? Whatever the actual effect, Argentina started to get into the game literally from the restart. It didn't look like a kick Sanchez intended to fall to a team mate but whatever way we judged our lifters, the ball sailed over and into the grateful arms of Moyano. Now they're the ones on the attack and this time O’Mahony gets himself on the wrong side of the ref's whistle and after conceding just three penalties all of the previous match, the Pumas are back in the lead after converting their second with just 11 minutes gone. Haven't these guys read the script? We're ranked second on the planet and we've a very important date with the All Blacks next week so why won't they just roll over and let us beat them already??? The cheek of them!!! And soon after that score, the lineout bug started to bite. For this first one it wasn't so much that Best's accuracy was off, more that it seemed to die in mid air over Henderson allowing their open side Pagadizaval to swat it down. Then later when an attack was going nowhere Sanchez launched a high kick which Stockdale was unable to catch and the knockon gave them a scrum just in our half. Now we see how costly losing Henshaw was. Please understand that I'm not for a second questioning Will Addison's ability, and it wasn't even his channel that was breached on this move. But for a Joe Schmidt game plan to work, I reckon the last position he'd want to lose at the last minute is his 13. Pretty much all the defensive work, all the planning, all the DVD sessions and x's and o's n whiteboards would be geared toward locking down the centre channels, especially off set pieces. Also it is widely known that Joe generally wants you fit by Tuesday if you're going to play on Saturday, such is the importance of his preparation. No matter how well an understudy knows his lines for a performance, when called to the stage at the eleventh hour, not only can his delivery fall short at times, so can other actors around him. And off this scrum the Puma centres De La Fuente and Orlando worked a simple enough combination to get through Sexton and Aki to get deep into our backfield. Even with that penetration, we are normally good at scrambling back, but our guests worked this situation extremely well, dragging us over to one side before firing across to the other wing where Delguy got it down. 17 minutes on the clock, and clearly we're not going to have everything our way. But wait…now it's Sanchez turn to disappoint with the conversion...can Ireland play their way back again? Absolutely. It took us about seven minutes but the lads treated the next spell like their lives depended on getting the next score, and having heard stories of Joe's rollickings, that feeling was justified. This second try wasn't quite as straightforward as the first, as by then the Argentinians had settled to their own defensive patterns. Between them their locks Alamano and Lavanini, plus their tighthead Medrano, made a whopping 71 tackles throughout. By contrast, Ireland just had 120 to make in total. That's an insane amount of work and we had to fight for every metre we made. Once again we worked our way to an attacking lineout in their 22 and began winning penalties although eventually the tough tackling took its toll and we knocked on. Not to worry we've got that scrum domination to fall back on…you don't see many go against the head at this level yet we won it back (with yet another pen advantage as well, shame they aren't reflected in the match stats) and although we were face with another light blue wall, eventually Bundee Aki tried a ‘Ringrose-esque’ run against the grain from behind a ruck and hey presto, we're back in front. We traded penalties before the break (including easily Sexton's best connection of the night which just dropped over the bar from just inside their half) to go in both ahead by one and very much reliant on coming out with some kind of a plan to take the game by the scruff of the neck. One who was not to emerge for the second half was of course poor Sean O'Brien. On 36m when we had just lost possession he tried to tackle Lavanini but just couldn't set his position and took the full weight of the massive lock's shoulder on his arm, which according to reports is now broken. Almost to the letter the very scenario we all feared. Nothing more to be said here but ‘fingers crossed’. So in our first possession of the second period, we got an idea what our plan was, and curiously enough based on the evidence up to that point, it involved Sexton's boot, yet what looked like a relatively simple kick pass for him went straight to the Pumas' fullback. In fairness, in his career he has comfortably earned the right to back himself in any aspect of the game, but that kick I described at the start of the writeup wasn't the only one to go awry and we were arguably lucky to emerge from the third quarter still ahead by the narrowest of margins. Though one of the reasons I say ‘arguably’ is that while our tally of 6 penalties on the night was poor by our standards (particularly when 4 of them were in Sanchez’ kicking range), our visitors were pinged twice as often and that's not counting unused advantages from scrums. Perhaps a 10-minute spell with an extra man might have been more productive for us but referee Nic Berry wasn't obliging. The reason I have gone this far into the article before mentioning James Ryan is that he is the kind of player who quietly goes about his business for 80 minutes and deserves to have his contributions highlighted should one not directly lead to a score because they are still immensely valuable.

When he wasn't busting gain lines for carries, he was up near the top of our tackling charts or forcing turnovers at their mauls. He's getting very close to being undroppable, though in this contest both of his opposing locks were in similar form. Not far off MotM was Peter O’Mahony. For all the talk of Leinster's embarrassment of backrow riches, the Munster skipper gets on my Irish team sheet before any of them. He always knows when to produce the goods just when they're needed, like forcing a turnover or even putting in one of the better territory kicks on the night. But it was his perfectly timed lineout steal that helped us seal the win. Once more we had hit them hard with phases in their 22 and the resistance was holding so much that Larmour felt his only option was to grubber one into touch close to the line. Sidenote on Larmour…this outing was definitely a reality check for him after last week. I said then he deserved man of the match because he tended to his FB duties as well as the YouTube moments, but this time, we definitely saw a few wobbles. Hopefully Rob is OK for the All Blacks in which case Jordan should definitely be in line for jersey 23 at least. Anyway…for all the talk of our lineout woes, the Pumas just lost one on their own throw but it was the most important, and moments before the dart you can see O’Mahony reading it like he made the call himself. From there Leavy got it over the line but it was held up so once again we relied on our scrum to lead to a try, this time via Stander putting through Luke McGrath. A word on the scrum halves…both did well to get on the score sheet though I did feel there was an uptick in pace when Luke came on. When it comes to selection for next week, much depends on Murray's fitness but I think I'd nudge the Leinster 9 ahead in the pecking order for the time being. So our third try put us two scores ahead and perhaps I'm being greedy but when we won another penalty in the 75th minute, I was disappointed that we didn't go for a fourth as that would have brought us to the 15-point margin that earns maximum ranking points. Instead Sexton took the three and that was all the scoring for the day. Not the dominant display nor result we expected by a long shot…but like I say, there were mitigating factors in that Argentina played closer to their “World Cup v Ireland” form than their “normal November v Ireland” form, plus the very late personnel change. I can also see silver linings, not least of which is that the All Blacks won't be able to see much in our play over this 80 minutes that will prepare them for next Saturday. Was this by design as much as by circumstance? Perhaps.

We can certainly do with bringing the scrum form forward, though I'd have concerns over Tadhg Furlong after he seemed to be visibly shaken on more than one occasion after what looked like head knocks. But answers to questions like those will only arrive after kickoff next Saturday. After all the success Ireland have enjoyed in 2018 so far, having had the summer off and some time back at their provinces, there are bound to be a few cobwebs….hopefully this match has served to clear them all. JLP

Later this week we'll have a guest post from Keego plus our 80-word reviews on Tuesday, Harpin Points on Wednesday, Telly post on Thursday and our Ireland v Argentina preview on Friday.  Plus of course every morning our Front5 quotes & links.  Do stay tuned!

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