Ireland’s first proper test of this November series will take place this Saturday when they take on Argentina at the Aviva Stadium.
That’s no disrespect to Italy, who have often proved to be tricky opposition in the past, but with Conor O’Shea fielding a rather experimental and inexperienced side for the Soldier Field showdown, there was only ever going to be one outcome.
With Argentina, this is likely a fixture that the Ireland coaching staff may find difficulty in preparing for. Argentina are in a state of transition and evolution since they sacked long-standing head coach Daniel Hourcade for legend Mario Ledesma.
Ledesma guided Argentina to two victories in this year’s Rugby Championship, at home to South Africa and away to Australia. There will be regrets from that competition as Argentina let an almost insurmountable lead slip at home to Australia while they ran New Zealand very close in Nelson in what would have been a career-defining achievement.
Although Ledesma is relatively new in the job, he was the former head coach of the Jaguares, Argentina’s sole representative in Super Rugby, and with the majority of the squad picked from this team, the 84-times capped Ledesma will be familiar with his players, and vice versa.
Ahead of Saturday’s match, we take a look at three areas which could determine the outcome.
1. Kicking Game
For both sides, the kicking battle in open play will prove crucial to their respective fortunes. On Saturday at Soldier Field, it was obvious that if you allow the likes of Jordan Larmour or Jacob Stockdale to receive the ball from deep positions with acres of space in front of them, you could be in for a tough outing.
This also applies to Ireland in the sense that Argentina now have dangerous strike runners such as Ramiro Moyano, sevens star Bautista Delguy and Matias Moroni. Give these players space and they will cause damage, that much is simple.
As a result, any kicking which takes place needs to be executed accurately and communicated well to the rest of the team. If a clearing kick takes place which doesn’t find touch, then the rest of the team need to be switched on in order to stay connected when committing to a chase or establishing a defensive set on turnover ball.
2. Scrum Battle
A strong set-piece is crucial to any side’s fortunes of emerging victorious but with teams now further relying on a solid scrum platform to launch pre-rehearsed attacking plays, this set-piece is having an ever-greater influence on the game.
Argentina have long been recognised for their power and grunt up front but a weak scrum has been a characteristic of this side for some time now.
With Ledesma, who was scrum coach of Australia during the 2015 World Cup, now at the helm, Argentina’s scrum will surely improve but this will take time and it likely won’t be until the World Cup in Japan where all the hard work will pay off in this department.
As a result, this provides Ireland with an excellent opportunity to not only launch those training ground moves but to also eke out penalties against their opposition and consequently dominate the territory stakes.
Ireland are in an envious position with the sheer strength in depth they have at their disposal in their front row. With the likes of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong all starting Saturday’s match, supplemented by the likes of Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin and Andrew Porter in the second half, Argentina could be in for a difficult time at the scrum.
There are many prerequisites implemented by Joe Schmidt if you want to play rugby under him and one of those is certainly discipline.
Schmidt puts a huge emphasis on keeping the penalty count in the single digits and Ireland did that in emphatic fashion by conceding just three penalties against Italy on Saturday, almost unheard of in international Test match rugby.
However, that stat comes with a caveat – Ireland were under next-to-no pressure during that game so the likelihood of getting on the wrong side of the referee diminishes significantly.
Ireland will concede more than three penalties this coming Saturday but the aim will be to keep that number less than Argentina’s.
Rather importantly, the referee for the Aviva Stadium clash is Nic Berry of Australia. Berry officiates in Super Rugby and, considering the Argentine players will be familiar with him due to them playing their club rugby with The Jaguares, this may be an advantage.
We have already seen Australian referee, Angus Gardner’s, interpretation of that now-famous Owen Farrell tackle on Andre Esterhuizen in England’s narrow 12-11 victory over the Springboks at Twickenham on Saturday – an incident which would have likely have been punished by a northern hemisphere referee.
Although this was an isolated incident in terms of the tackle, the breakdown, which is where most penalties are conceded, is often interpreted differently by referees south of the equator. Everything from when a ruck is formed, how long a tackled player can hold onto the ball and the leeway given to players going off their feet can change significantly with the referee in charge.
As such, Ireland and Argentina will want to quickly adapt their game to Berry’s liking, whoever does this quickest will have the upper hand.
This article was brought to you in association with Vodafone, the official sponsor of the Irish Rugby Team.