In my Ireland v Italy writeup I wondered if Joe & his coaching staff were treating these November matches as if they were part of the World Cup, with the opposition determining which stage of the tournament we were simulating. Now I'm even more sure of it with this selection.
The way I saw it, playing a weakened Italian team could be considered preparation for our pool fixtures against Japan and Samoa, in that we need to know if we can afford to use the fringes of our squad yet still get the job done, a test we very much passed if so.
There are, of course, no prizes for guessing which stage of a World Cup this Saturday's clash reminds us of! And as much as we'd like to forget those quarterfinal losses to Argentina, the boys in green need to keep them fresh in their minds so that makes this clash timely.
I guess Joe's most burning selection question is this…after a pretty much all-conquering series of results with a virtually settled XV, how could he possibly justify making any changes?
Well when you look at the calibre of players who weren't involved, you can see how that makes it such an enviable dilemma for him. Sean O’Brien is a prime example.
On Wednesday in my latest Harpin Points post I had a bit of a ramble on the selection of Irish opensides, and I had to pinch myself for saying it but I found it difficult to justify selecting the Tullow Tank over the likes of van der Flier or Leavy. Well this could well be the match where he proves me wrong, and make no mistake, I'll be delighted if he does.
It's not that I doubt his ability, or his passion, or his ability to inspire others. I suppose it's just his fitness? It has been so far so good this season for his Leinster outings but my concern would be over giving him a run in the Irish team only to have to start all over again if he is forced back to the sidelines. But isn't that always the way with rugby, particularly the 7 shirt?
And Josh himself is another who missed out though this time he is rested again with Dan Leavy on the bench. It really is a tough call between the three of them and that's even before you factor in the Jordi and the Rhys's and the Tommy's of this world. What an amazing position to be in, though a final decision will have to be made eventually.
Next there's Jordan Larmour. I know he featured in the Grand Slam matchday 23, but he can provide the kind of game breaking form that has to put him in consideration for the 15 jersey, and with Rob unavailable, we'll get to see how he fares, and against a much better opposing back three as well.
Next up for scrutiny is Iain Henderson. With Toner and Ryan proving a trophy winning double act for both club and country, and Tadhg Beirne literally barging his way into the thick of the pecking order, Hendo might see himself as being under a bit of pressure, but there's no better man in those circumstances. If Iain isn't in the frame for man of the match on Saturday I'd be very surprised.
Scrum half was always going to be a topical choice with Murray still not ready. It's pretty clear that Joe has Kieran Marmion in mind as chief back up and his superior experience at this level makes this a logical choice. Luke McGrath did well enough last week to get the nod on the bench but John Cooney has played his way to earning more time and might start at 9 v the USA.
As for our opposition, we only conceded 3 penalties last week and will need similar good discipline this time around to keep Nicholas Sanchez from racking up the points.
But these Pumas won't be relying on three-pointers that's for sure… they are battle hardened after years of tough contests in The Rugby Championship so it pretty much goes without saying we can afford no slip ups. How the respective hookers’ (and captains’) productivity in open play compare could prove the difference on the day.
The bookies have us winning by 18 points… That looks insanely optimistic at first glance but given we're at close to full strength with Messrs Best, Sexton & O’Mahony back on board, plus we're entertaining hopes of beating the All Blacks the following week, we really should be striving for this kind of domination.
Assuming Henshaw can defensively marshal the centre channel with Aki the way Ringrose did last week, we certainly have every chance to get or beat that margin… I'm going to say 15 points to go a smidge more cautious yet still earn us maximum ranking points.
Enjoy the day if you're going, it promises to be another November classic! JLP
Argentina: 15-Emiliano Boffelli, 14-Bautista Delguy, 13-Matias Orlando, 12-Jeronimo de la Fuente, 12-Ramiro Moyano, 10-Nicolas Sanchez, 9-Tomas Cubelli
8-Javier Ortega Desio, 7-Guido Petti, 6-Pablo Matera (captain), 5-Tomas Lavanini, 4-Matias Alemanno, 3-Santiago Medrano, 2-Agustin Creevy, 1-Santiago Garcia Botta
Replacements: 16-Julian Montoya, 17-Juan Pablo Zeiss, 18-Lucio Sordoni, 19-Rodrigo Bruni, 20-Tomas Lezana, 21-Gonzalo Bertranou, 22-Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 23-Matias Moroni.
Saturday, November 10, 2018
Referee Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant 1 Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant 2 Ludovic Cayre (France)
TMO David Grashoff (England)
Live on RTÉ Two Channel 4