The world's sixth and seventh best sides will face off in Dublin on Saturday as Ireland host Argentina in the latest November Test.
The world's sixth and seventh best sides will face off in Dublin on Saturday as Ireland host Argentina in the latest November International.
Expectations have been at a minimum for Ireland this November. The reasoning behind this is a remarkable injury list that has denied Declan Kidney of some of his finest talents, including Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Stephen Ferris.
That being said, November was largely been a positive month for Ireland. Their opening match against South Africa saw them take a surprising 12-3 first-half lead into the break, but a crucial missed penalty from Jonathan Sexton stuttered their rhythm, paving the way for a resounding second-half comeback from the Springboks.
Naturally the result was a disappointment considering the lead Ireland held at the interval, but the way they controlled the first-half in all areas given their depleted squad was encouraging.
Those positive vibes were backed up in a convincing but ultimately meaningless 53-0 hammering of Fiji at Thomond Park. A look to the future for Declan Kidney saw Craig Gilroy, Iain Henderson and many more impress during the rout, with Gilroy doing enough to win a first start for his country in a Test on Saturday against Argentina.
Having thundered past Fiji and surpassed expectations against South Africa, gauging how Ireland should fare against the Pumas is up for debate. Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip appears to be finding his form again after a significant dip and the spotlight will be on him against Argentina to inspire what in certain areas is an unfamiliar Ireland side.
Substantial injuries technically offer Ireland an excuse but there will be a strong sentiment of unfinished business after letting that nine point lead slip against South Africa. By defeating Argentina, Ireland will pick up valuable momentum ahead of the Six Nations and finish November on a high.
As for Argentina, November has been a month that when we look back on their long-term development will not be forgotten.
Their success against Wales in Cardiff was not down to fortuitous circumstances as might have been argued in the past, but total dominance. Two world-class finishes from Juan Imhoff and Gonzalo Camacho provided the tries and the development of Nicolas SÃ¡nchez continued as he slotted drop goals and freed his backs.
Where the Pumas remain dominant however is in the pack. The retirement of Rodrigo Roncero and Mario Ledesma has been made easier by Marcos Ayerza and Eusebio Guinazu, whilst Juan Figallo continues to develop into one of the world's finest tightheads.
The quality only improves in the back-row – Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe just getting better with age and ably assisted by Juan Manuel Leguizamon and Leonardo Senatore. The combination of precision and power in that back-row is a test for any Test side as Wales will testify, giving the youthful Irish duo of Peter O'Mahony and Chris Henry plenty to ponder ahead of Saturday's clash.
Aspects of Argentina's game against France last weekend were positive, but the result will have stung after making ground against Wales the week before. Make no mistake – the Pumas are hungry.
Ones to watch:
For Ireland: Hard to ignore last week's hat-trick hero, Craig Gilroy. Only 21 years of age, Gilroy has spent the last two seasons impressing on the wing for Ulster in both the PRO12 and Heineken Cup and now gets his chance at senior level. Blessed with sharp feet and blistering pace, Gilroy proved how clinical he can be through each of his three scores against Fiji last weekend and offers Ireland another potent attacking option in the back-three alongside Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe.
For Argentina: Marking his return to the Test side with a try last weekend in France, Marcelo Bosch offers the Pumas a dangerous attacking option in midfield through both his power and slight of hand. Starting at the expense of Gonzalo Tiesi, Bosch will look to give Gordon D'Arcy and Keith Earls plenty to worry about in midfield in order to free up for Argentina's dangerous marksmen out wide.
Head-to-head: Two influential figures at the base of the scrum, Jamie Heaslip and Leonardo Senatore. The Ireland captain was outstanding between 2009-2011 but has struggled for form this season both domestically and with the national side, failing to make the clean breaks that have become his trademark. On the rise once more, a second Lions tour looms for Heaslip who knows that every performance counts ahead of selection. 28-year old Senatore will go toe-to-toe with Heaslip all afternoon in Dublin, with the former Toulon flanker eager to make a big impression on the international stage.
2010: Ireland won 29-9 in Dublin
2008: Ireland won 17-3 in Dublin
2007: Argentina won 30-15 in Paris
2007: Argentina won 16-0 in Buenos Aires
2007: Argentina won 22-20 in Santa Fe
2004: Ireland won 21-19 in Dublin
2003: Ireland won 16-15 in Adelaide
2002: Ireland won 16-7 in Dublin
2000: Argentina won 34-23 in Buenos Aires
Prediction: Provided the weather holds out this could be the pick of the weekend's fixtures. Two evenly matched teams with clinical finishers out wide but as always, it is all about the platform. Fernandez Lobbe and his allies have the ability to dominate the breakdown, but Ireland's all-Leinster front row can control the game at the scrum. Execution from Sexton and Sanchez will be essential. Ireland by five.
Ireland: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Iain Henderson, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ronan O'Gara, 23 Fergus McFadden.
Argentina: 15 Juan Martin Hernandez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Julio Farias Cabello, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Maximiliano Bustos, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 19 Tomas Vallejos, 20 Tomas Leonardi, 21 Nicolas Vergallo, 22 Gonzalo Tiesi, 23 Manuel Montero.
Date: Saturday, November 24
Kick-off: 14:00 GMT
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Andrew Small (England)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)
by Ben Coles