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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Depleted Ireland can't afford to take Argentina for granted

Pumas can scratch

Ian Madigan’s emotion at the final whistle last Sunday in Cardiff was understandable but Ireland will have to be clinical against Argentina
Ian Madigan’s emotion at the final whistle last Sunday in Cardiff was understandable but Ireland will have to be clinical against Argentina

I felt there might be a plan of sorts, where Paul O'Connell would go off into the sunset, held head proud, a World Cup victory to accompany him.

Instead, of course, it has become a sort of constant elegy to a rugby career, an Irish one of least.

It may be a tad easier in a few weeks but at this remove it all seems a bit raw.

It was a harrowing image to end a half of astounding bravery, our captain being stretchered off the field, receiving oxygen.

It seemed a harbinger of future doom, a visual metaphor for a team on its last legs, on its last breath.

instead we got magnificence. the nether reaches of our squad suddenly turned into composed, efficient leaders that knew the game plan and had the ability to implement it.

Best game

It beggared belief and on reflection, still stands up to scrutiny. It was the best game that I've had the pleasure to watch.

The circumstances dictate it thus. O'Connell, O'Mahony and Sexton all fell but their replacements surpassed all expectations that we could have had for them.

As with all sport, you just have to move on. Lots of kind thoughts for the injured players but the team still needs to prepare for Sunday and like my Paul O'Connell rugby obituary, it needs to be put to on e side.

And that is only the beginning of the difficulty this week. This Irish team had taken a pummelling. they won of course, but it was brutal.

Apart from the injured players, last Sunday's game exacted a toll from all our players, both physical and emotional.

Recover

Physically, they will just about recover. Battered and bruised some rehab and physio will do a world of good and four or fi ve days will remove most of the bruising. Hard to back up physically but to be honest, part of the process in a World Cup.

Of more immediate concern is the emotional toll of last weekend.

The players' reaction in the second half was phenomenal, taking over the leadership roles and bringing the performance to such a level.

Losing so many players stretched the very fabric of the team, the emotions vacillated between huge highs and lows, personified I think, by the eruption of emotion from Ian Madigan.

The enormity or what he had achieved in the previous hour hit home as he took in the reaction of the crowd, of the supporters of his friends and family.

This was his day of days and the outpouring was a pretty natural result.

The team now has had a week to deal with their injury toll, the highs and lows and get back into match mode.

Intensity

I believe - for any of the games we have left - we will need to play at our best but I'm not sure we can or should play at the level of intensity we showed on Sunday.

It will be a different type of game against Argentina, they will offer up a very aggressive blend of counter attacking and heavy hitting play.

They will make more mistakes than France did, chiefly because they will try more, and they will not be as afraid of making mistakes.

Our pressure should force the errors, but we have to take every opportunity offered.

Sometimes, you need to be careful what you wish for. We have Argentina and not New Zealand, but let's not take anything for granted.

The Irish supporters at large still don't hold Argentina in very high esteem, but the players, past and present, know the true worth of these men.

This game will be every bit as tough as last week, Argentina are playing better rugby than France, and they offer many more threats.

Again, none of us take them for granted.

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