Ireland v Argentina, Aviva Stadium, Sunday, 2.15pm – Live on RTÉ 2 and Channel 4
Follow that? Coming down from the euphoric high of last week to go again makes this look an even trickier game for Ireland than it was always going to be.
Not only do they have to try to rescale those emotional and physical heights achieved against New Zealand, but a less than capacity crowd for a Sunday 2.15pm kick-off may not be as wound up as a week ago either.
Retaining 11 of the starting lineup from last week is both a mark of respect to this fixture and Argentina, but also makes sense in affording the promoted halfbacks, Conor Murray and Joey Carbery, as well as the once-capped Enniskillen flyer Robert Baloucoune, every chance to make the most of what are significant games for all three players.
The fourth change sees the return of the fit-again Robbie Henshaw for his seasonal reappearance. While the brand of heads-up, attacking rugby should suit Carbery, to have the building block of an unchanged pack as well as the attacking structures employed against Japan and New Zealand makes sense.
This is all the truer given Andy Farrell has also promoted the 22-year-old halfbacks Craig Casey and Harry Byrne, as well as a couple of once-capped 23-year-old frontrowers in Dan Sheehan and Tom O’Toole, to the bench.
“A better performance, hopefully, that’s what we’re after,” said Farrell yesterday. “We always want to progress as a squad. There’s a few injuries, people get a chance in a big game with a good side that we’ve picked so I’m looking forward to this game as much as any game that we’ve played.”
Yet this game may not be as fluent an encounter as is invariably the case when the All Blacks are on the field, and as is usually not the case against Los Pumas.
Similarly, Mario Ledesma has made only three changes from his starting XV from last week’s handsome win in Italy, calling up winger Lucio Cinti, fit-again lock Guido Petti and flanker Santiago Grondono. Marcos Kremer reverts to the backrow, where the Crusaders-based former captain Pablo Matera shifts to number eight with Facundo Isa on the bench.
“That’s a lot of continuity there, a lot of firepower,” admitted Farrell.
Indeed, Argentina will bring athleticism and heavy duty carriers in Matera, Kremer and Thomas Lavanini, while hooker Julian Montoya is one of the world’s best in the jackal, and they also have a good lineout and potent maul. For Farrell and Paul O’Connell to retain James Ryan and Iain Henderson, the former to captain and the latter to call the lineouts, is testimony to that.
The Pumas’ defence is aggressive, not least with Jeronimo de la Fuente and Martin Moroni in midfield. True to type, in a full-on Saturday night Test against France in Paris two weeks ago, they were up for the scrap too, and Les Bleus required a big impact from their bench to win 29-20.
They largely becalmed a fired-up Italian side last week with the quality of their forward play, defence, strong carrying and kicking game. Disinclined to play in their own half, Los Pumas kicked the ball out of hand 50 times in Treviso, with Santiago Carreras the main exponent. Their aerial bombardment, with tall fullback Emiliano Boffelli leading the chase, was backed up by their use of grubbers and lofted chips in behind. This paved the way for the first three of their five tries.
But they have pace and can play too. They finished off two of their tries nicely in the corners, before underlining their supremacy with a catch-and-drive try for powerful replacement hooker Facundo Bosch.
But this has been a difficult year in difficult times for Argentinian rugby. Without Super Rugby the Jaguares – finalists in 2019 – have been disbanded pending a hoped-for switch to the URC, and with no Sanzaar income there was a flight of Wild Geese-like proportions.
They haven’t felt the love of a home game since before the World Cup. This is their 11th Test of the year, and meant a total of 30 days in quarantine in the UK in July and Oceania in August.
But either side of losing all six in the Rugby Championship they have won two and drawn one of four games in Europe. With a trimmed down squad of 32 rather than the 44 on duty in Australia, they have regrouped impressively.
Last week’s win over New Zealand makes Farrell’s team even more of a scalp, and the Pumas also have the prize of becoming the first Argentina side to beat Ireland in Dublin in 10 attempts.
A tight-knit, intensely patriotic squad by nature, they will throw everything at Ireland knowing that there will be no more tomorrows after this arduous year.
However, much the same is true of this Irish squad, and that has been evident since the post-lockdown resumption, not just in this autumn series. For all the non-believers out there until the past week, the players never stopped believing. Farrell, Paul O’Connell, Mike Catt, psychologist Gary Keegan et al have been fostering something for a while now.
A strong indicator of this were the concluding matches to the Autumn Nations Cup and this year’s Six Nations, when far from suffering bubble fatigue, Ireland signed off with their best performances of both campaigns in putting Scotland and England to the sword.
Significantly refreshed while retaining a strong core of the side from the last two games, Ireland may well be sore again come Monday morning and will know they’ve been in a game. But you sense they have another big performance in them.
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Robert Baloucoune (Ulster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), James Lowe (Leinster); Joey Carbery (Munster), Conor Murray (Munster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Rónan Kelleher (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Iain Henderson (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster, capt); Caelan Doris (Leinster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster).
Replacements: Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Tom O’Toole (Ulster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Craig Casey (Munster), Harry Byrne (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster).
ARGENTINA: Emiliano Boffelli (Edinburgh); Mateo Carreras (Newcastle Falcons), Matias Moroni (Leicester Tigers), Jeronimo de la Fuente (Perpignan), Lucio Cinti (London Irish); Santiago Carreras (Gloucester), Tomas Cubelli (Biarritz); Thomas Gallo (Benetton), Julian Montoya (Leicester Tigers, capt), Francisco Gomez Kodela (Lyon); Guido Petti (Bordeaux), Tomas Lavanini (Clermont Auvergne); Santiago Grondona (Exeter), Marcos Kremer (Stade Francais), Pablo Matera (Crusaders).
Replacements: Facundo Bosch (La Rochelle), Ignacio Calles (Pau), Eduardo Bello (Zebre Parma), Lucas Paulos (Brive), Facundo Isa (Toulon), Gonzalo Bertranou (Dragons), Nicolas Sanchez (Stade Francais), Facundo Cordero (Exeter Chiefs).