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Wednesday 19 December 2018

'Whatever Joe does next, he has changed Irish rugby'

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Ireland’s hopes could hinge on the performance of Kieran Marmion, who is replacing the injured Conor Murray
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Ireland’s hopes could hinge on the performance of Kieran Marmion, who is replacing the injured Conor Murray

This could well be Joe Schmidt's last November series with Ireland.

The thread running through the build-up this week has been one of eyes-straight-ahead at Argentina.

In the background, the IRFU has already been chest-out about life after Joe, when everyone knows it would leave a hole into which Ireland could fall.

And they have a long way to fall.

It is a measure of Schmidt's impact that Ireland are now held up as legitimate challengers to New Zealand.

They could even move up to become number one in the world, should they take care of Argentina and the All Blacks, as long as the world champions lose to England as well as Ireland.

This is not to make any overblown claim about how close Ireland are to the world leaders.

They have risen to their current status through the consistency of standards set and targets met.

WARY: Ireland captain Rory Best is concerned about Argentina’s threat from deep
WARY: Ireland captain Rory Best is concerned about Argentina’s threat from deep

Ireland captain Rory Best was genuine in his appreciation of what Schmidt has achieved in this country.

"What Joe has done for Irish rugby, not just the national team but Leinster, is evident and plain to see in the silverware. It speaks for itself," said the hooker.

"No matter what Joe does, he has changed Irish rugby, how we perceive performance and our preparation.

"His legacy will obviously be silverware… what Leinster have now become and what Ireland are pushing towards becoming and have achieved."

There is the evidence of results and there is the small, intense bursts of the day-to-day relationship between Ireland captain and coach that have confirmed Best's impression of Schmidt.

"From a player's point of view, and from an Irish rugby fan's point of view, you want to see the best coaches staying, and he is the best coach I have ever had.

"He is one of the best coaches in the world. That's who you want in charge of the national team.

Cabinets

"He has to do what is right for him and if that is a change then his legacy will go on longer than just the silverware that sits in the trophy cabinets."

There are the European Cups with Leinster and the two Six Nations titles and the 2018 Grand Slam with Ireland.

Overshadowing all of this is the only real failure on Schmidt's resume and, even then, it can be attributed to a catastrophe of injury.

There is what happened at the 2015 World Cup and there is what has happened since then.

Ireland have been formed into a focussed, details-based outfit that will have noted how Argentina have changed, even in the last three years.

"You talk traditionally about the big scrum and the big power game, but 2015 was a turning point in my opinion of them," said Best.

"At the 2007 World Cup, they played with flair and width.

"In 2015, on the big stage, that was the time when they really had young guys that are now big players in their squad, who play with width, no fear. That's the way they play."

Heck, as recently as last November, the Pumas were able to cut through Ireland's defence from deep for an injury-time try that was a warning of what would happen when concentration levels slip.

"If you give them space to do that, like we did at the end of the game last year, they'll make you pay," said Best.

"So, we've got to start well and it's got to be an 80-minute performance.

Pinned

"Because if that game is tight and you get into injury time, and you think you have them pinned back behind their own line, before you know it, you could be behind your own posts looking down the barrel of a loss."

This is where Ireland's tendency to squeeze the life out of opponents through ball retention and the guidance from their half-backs has come into play.

The measured approach of Jonathan Sexton, outside Kieran Marmion, is all based on the hard graft of the pack.

The suspect scrummaging of the Pumas' back-up props will be a source of pressure for Ireland.

The back-five have the athleticism and the attitude to go toe-to-toe with the Argentinians.

The Irish have to control the game, not let the South Americans to get into that quick striking rhythm that gave Ireland nightmares in 2015.

As long as they can dictate the tempo and take enough of their chances, it should be enough to squeeze out victory.

Ireland: J Larmour; K Earls, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, K Marmion; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong, I Henderson, J Ryan, P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, CJ Stander. Reps: S Cronin, J McGrath, A Porter, D Toner, D Leavy; L McGrath, J Carbery, A Conway.

Argentina: E Boffelli; B Delguy, M Orlando, J de la Fuente, R Moyano; N Sanchez, T Cubelli; S Garcia-Botta, A Creevy, S Medrano, M Alemanno, T Lavanini, P Matera (capt), G Petti, J Ortega-Desio. Reps: J Montoya, JP Zeiss, L Sordoni, R Bruni, T Lezana; G Bertranou, J Diaz-Bonilla, M Moroni.

Verdict: Ireland

  • AUTUMN INTERNATIONAL, IRELAND v ARGENTINA, Live RTE2 & C4 (KO 6.30)

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