Monday, November 22, 2021

IRELAND-53 ARGENTINA-7

PLENTY IN RESERVE


Best Irish try of the day for me came right after what you might call Argentina’s “purple patch”.  I have to use inverted commas because it doesn’t actually include the only seven points they managed to rack up on the day.


This was actually a spell from minutes 25 to 35, where the Pumas had chances for two penalties and a converted try that you would definitely expect one of the world’s top ten test nations to fully convert into points.  First fullback Emiliano Boffelli completely botched two successive very central placekicks, then a slick offload from scrumhalf Cubelli put through Mateas Carreras who seemed to have the line at his mercy for his second try only for a little nudge from Porter behind him to cause the ball to fly forward out of his hands.


Such was the kind of day the Pumas were having, and although you can’t just assume those misses actually meant they wasted 13 points altogether, the fact that the scoreboard read 17-7 to the home side at the time meant they would have at least put a very hefty dent in that margin.  Instead, Ireland proceeded to charge down the field from the very spot Carreras’ knock on took place close to our own line.


First there was a penalty at the scrum after Andrew Porter got some payback on his direct foe Kodela following an earlier ping the other way.  This gave us a lineout towards halfway, and Rónan Kelleher’s crisp dart was plucked from the sky by Tadhg Beirne, just one of 16 from 16 successful connections on the day.


Then it was taken by Josh van der Flier and shipped on to skipper James Ryan who provided the crash ball that got us into their territory.  Next came a Conor Murray box kick - “Oh no!!!!!  What’s the story - I thought we weren’t doing those anymore???” is absolutely NOT what I was thinking.


He took some flak for his display at times on the day, and maybe it’s possible there are better options out there for this version of the boys in green, but at this moment the kick was just what we needed as it was met at the other end by James Lowe, as if I didn’t harp enough on him last week


So now we’re about 15m into the Pumas half and Lowe has plenty of support to help him recycle.  The visiting defence didn’t have their worst day on Sunday but we were still able to offload and move around enough to keep them honest and eventually we managed to work it out wide to the right wing where it fell to Robert Balacoune.


While I’m not a fan of dwelling on what province Irish players hail from, at this point in the 37th minute I did have some sympathy for Ulster fans because you wouldn’t really have known the youngster was on the pitch but boy was he ready to get involved.  This first carry brought the play all the way to the 22 and yet again the forwards showed up to settle us there before it was returned to Balacoune again.  Now he’s barreling into would-be Argentinian tacklers once more and hey presto we’re approaching the 5m line.


Murray had been getting stick on the twitter machine for being slow with his passing but it was fine for this spell and he slipped James Ryan for another carry that brought us within 3 metres.  Our scrumhalf’s next target was Caelan Doris who had two opponents there to greet him at the gainline.




What happened next clearly illustrated the principle difference between these two sides.  One is riding the crest of a wave after a string of impressive results from a new playing style while the other is clinging onto one win in Treviso amidst an even longer string of defeats on a world tour that seemed to last forever.


From this point you’d expect Doris to get us maybe within a metre of the line after which we would very likely score but only after a few more phases.  But such was the disparity in confidence between him (Player of the Match against the All Blacks sure ain’t nothin) and those who tried to haul him down that he doubled down after the first hit, surged forward some more and even with a few extra Pumas joining it to try and stop him, still got the ball down.


Less than two minutes earlier, it looked like the Pumas were going to pull seven points back.  Now here we were doing it to them instead, with pretty much the entire Irish starting XV involved.  Yet another to add to the host of highlight clips Andy Farrell’s men have provided us this November.


Now it wasn’t that we’d had everything our own way up to this point, far from it; in fact the setbacks began before a ball was even kicked as both Jack Conan and Iain Henderson were late withdrawals.  Then came that early try for the visitors when a pair of quick offloads out of the tackle provided Mateas Carreras a mismatch against Tadhg Beirne allowing the winger to get around him to score.


But you could argue that this was just what we needed to get us down from the dizzy heights of the previous weekend and appreciate the task at hand and it wasn't long before the man whose performance was always going to have the most scrutiny, Joey Carbery, began to settle into the afternoon.


It wasn’t a Johnny Sexton display but how could it be, he’s a once in a generation type of player.  It was still very much a comfortable display and after nailing a penalty to get us off the mark he proceeded to marshall us up the pitch in his own way.


Obviously it didn’t hurt that the Pumas arrived at the Aviva Stadium without a functioning lineout, which like I said earlier was in direct contrast to ours.  With such a reliable platform it meant virtually any penalty won in midfield meant a try opportunity was to come quickly and on 10m it was Tadhg Beirne bringing it down setting up a maul that charged to the line before van der Flier got it down.


It took us about 10 minutes to have another go at it, after a sweeping backline move saw Lowe skipping into the 22 before we won another penalty which we put to touch.  This time it was Ryan doing the dart-grabbing, with Porter following on after the maul to do the try-nabbing.


Then came that purple patch, then the Doris try and the halftime scoreline of 24-7 resembled the frequency with which Ireland fans were remembering the performance against the All Blacks all through the week.


After the break there were more setbacks for Ireland as James Ryan failed to return from an HIA and the Pumas defence was managing to keep us at bay down one end, albeit while their lineout was still screwing up opportunities down at the other.


But their penalty count was continuing to creep up until Pablo Matera saw yellow for a deliberate knockdown as we were threatening them in the 22 once again.  Carbery knocked over the easy three but we had to be determined to make the most out of the extra man.


Next came what could well have been my favourite moment of the match, because if this represents a policy from Farrell and co it could well be genius.  When Harry Byrne entered the fray at the 50m mark, everyone outside the Irish setup assumed it was to replace Carbery - the graphics on both RTÉ and Channel 4 said as much.  It was actually in place of Hugo Keenan, who wasn’t injured and surely doesn’t need to do anymore to prove that the green 15 jersey is well and truly his right now.


So with all the debate over who should be backing up Sexton, plus another lurking in the background over what kind of full back we should have in reserve should Keenan ever be unavailable, all of a sudden we were being treated to half an hour of Joey in a role he played on several occasions for Leinster “back in the day”.  And he didn’t look too shabby back there either.


We weren’t to make the most of the extra man until just before Matera returned to the pitch, with not surprisingly a lineout in the 22 setting the stage as Ryan Baird took the dart before we got to the line where Josh van der Flier got his second.  In my preview I hinted that he might get Player of the Match to complete the set of November gongs for the back row, but I can see how Joey got the nod instead and you know what, individual awards really don't matter when a team is playing this well together. BTW - Tadhg Furlong was very much in with a shout as well.


Then came the really ugly bit.  Argentina actually responded well initially to that try by recovering the restart and advancing to our 22, but when the Irish defence, which continues to appear to improve throughout a second half despite all the substitutions, kept them outside the 22 for 11 phases, let’s just say they started to get a tad impatient. 


First there was a roar of consternation in the crowd towards the front over on the East Stand as centre Matias Moroni dived off his feet over a breakdown, though referee Matthew Carley didn’t appear interested.  This clearly emboldened Tomas Lavanini to go one better a phase or two later as he spotted Cian Healy on his knees at the breakdown and decided his most sensible option would be to lunge at the prop’s neck in from the side.


Had Church been actually pinned to the ruck in that position who knows what kind of injury he could have sustained but luckily he was ok although that quite rightly wasn’t enough to prevent a reaction from Peter O’Mahony, who was prone at the time and got a closeup view of the Argentine lock’s stupidity.

"You're a scumbag.  You know exactly what you're doing. (to ref) He knows exactly what he's doing (to TL) Scumbag. Yeah, you're a hard man.  Good man yourself...[inaudible]...that's very unlike you."

I can see why Carley had a word with POM after that, but then again I’d have called his choice of words quite restrained, all things considered.  And this is exactly the kind of thing that has me delighted to still see his name on an Irish teamsheet even if there’s an abundance of backrow talent with the ability to be ahead of him.  At test level in particular, he’s always a guy you want out there and this was yet another quality 80-minute shift from him.


So with the TMO barely needed to show that was a red card, now we had our man advantage back again and with Harry Byrne now getting a chance to show what he has learned from his stint in the Irish camp, we proceeded to pad the already-impressive score even more before the end.


Obviously it wasn’t all down to Harry, in fact he will definitely need more game time before he looks as comfortable as Joey did, but there were signs that the overall experience has been good for him and perhaps a start against the Ulstermen next weekend would be the best way to help him gain some momentum.


But back to the action, alongside him at halfback there was Craig Casey who certainly injected a lot of tempo into the proceedings, possibly enough to make him a better fit for the 21 jersey assuming JGP has nailed down the 9.  And so we continued to press until the penalties starting coming again, which of course gave us more attacking lineouts.


The first dart of the late try trio went to Doris, who took it down into a maul and here Dan Sheehan wasn’t wasting any time as he brought the ball to the line and ducked under the tacklers.  For the next two scores he connected with Tadhg Beirne, with Healy getting on the end of the phases at the line to make up for an earlier chance ruled out by the TMO, and the Munster lock himself finishing off a maul himself on 75m to bring up the “fifty-burger”.


And so this brief 3-match series came to a close, with nary a negative word to be said for the overall display.  Even the “George Hookiest” among us couldn’t find a way to try and bring us down, we put away the poor opposition, and we dominated the strong.  


For me the most important takeaways were the style of rugby we’re now bringing to the table, as well as the types of players the coaching staff want to get it done.  None of it is what we would have expected, but pretty much all of it has been a pleasure to watch over the past three weekends.


So now that it’s time to get the provincial jerseys out once more, why don’t we just hold this series in our memories for as long as we possibly can.  The Six Nations, tour to New Zealand and all that lies beyond will be there when the time comes, but this has most certainly been a November to remember so sincere congratulations to all involved, with of course an extra special mention for the women’s squad who ground out two good wins themselves while having to deal with a lot off the pitch for the duration.


As always stay tuned to this page throughout the week, we’ve a podcast to record before looking ahead to the visit of Ulster at the weekend.  Plenty of top quality rugby to look forward to.  JLP


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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019