And so it with a tear in my eye that I say goodbye to the November internationals of 2017. My favourite part of the sporting year is over again. Last year we have the All Blacks initiating gang war on the turf of Lansdowne road to close it off, this year we had a professional and stubborn Argentina side in our closing match.
Going into the game and after team selection I thought Ireland would run over the visitors. I thought that the mixture of experience around the team with the new caps would prove too much for a weary, well-travelled Argentina side who would want to go home and sleep for a while.
Argentina chose to kick to Stockdale (warrior) all day. The plan was to pin Ireland back all day and wait for the error. Ireland played with confidence and precision to run the ball back and minimise the kicking which was an interesting facet to the November games. The scoreboard ticked over with a few pressure induced penalties slotted home by Sexton. Starting at 3 minutes. The scrum was a monster all day, putting Argentina back at 11 minutes which was worth a few points in itself, followed by penalty 2 for Sexton. Healy showing some insane form early along with the entire pack. Stockdale finished a perfectly executed try on 20 minutes which opened up the scoreboard and continued the trend of big points in the first half. Farrell pulling the strings with a beaut of a pass to let Sexton into the space. Finished by Sexton with ease.
13-0 at half time. The trends continue with a strong opening half with very few mistakes and the team hitting the ground running. Slow starts are now certainly a thing of the past. Strong everywhere with options at every turn. Even though Argentina must be tired, they were not allowed play. The championship minutes didn’t yield any points, but none where conceded. An improvement on last week.
Second half kicked off in a similar vein. Ireland up fast and strong. Kearney in another big game in the big jersey made the first run and the ball began moving from there. The fitness and quickness around the field is fantastic to see. Anytime there is a break down the pack are able to make a decision and execute same in the blink of an eye.
41 minutes and Stockdale cuts through Argentina like a knife through butter, the man is on fire. Massive competition for both wings now. Sexton puts away a tough kick from the side-line putting Ireland 20-0 up. That last kick shows the difference between our starting 10 and the replacement. Sexton had the radar on all day and wasn’t going to miss; he hit the post later after a great kick.
Argentina where going to get a stubborn patch. Just after 50 minutes they began to keep possession and Ireland appeared to be in defensive mode, happy to absorb pressure. At any level, this cannot be done all day.
Grubber kick brings Argentina onto the board at 55 minutes and the game was changing. Yes the score didn’t really reflect that but the play did. Ireland appeared to be sitting at the table instead of watching the kettle boil. Argentina showed professionalism and stubbornness that (for a neutral – not me) was great to see. They were making it a game.
Ireland replied with character at 62 mins with the bank, CJ Stander finishing a drive that would surely end the game. 8 minutes later Kearney made a try saving tackle. Argentina back in this. Penalty count has been low which is great; it has sometimes been the undoing in recent times. 74 minutes 28-12 Ireland.
A refereeing mistake 4 minutes later ran from their own line into the Ireland red zone. This was their sniff. Rory Best threw an arm out to intercept and partly to stop play. A professional foul some would say. Momentum stopped. Argentina attacking at 80 minutes and another grubber kick brings the score to 28-19 after a great kick from the side-line.
Ireland once again letting a team into the game after a big lead was built up. No one played badly; in fact nearly all ratings for the players would be 7+. But Argentina where able to get back into a game that they shouldn’t have been able to, we never put the foot on the throat and put them out of the game. Ireland never put the psychological bullet in Los Pumas that I was hoping for. And this is the worry going into the 6 Nations. A competition we really should be winning next year.
What happens when/if a team builds a lead on us? This has happened in the past and I think it is why the team has been concentrating on hitting the ground running which is great, but the game needs to be finished when the chance is there.
The new(ish) capped players all performed over the 3 games, the competition for places is now at an all-time high outside of out 9 and 10. For me, Luke McGrath is the second choice 9, but I am in an office and Joe is in the big chair so that shows what my thoughts are worth. Sexton is a country mile ahead of the backup. Keatley being leader for me if Carberry is absent. Blendenhaal in Munster appears to be bookies favourite but he hasn’t been having a great year and Keatley has shown massive resilience to come back after his shocker of a year last year. Will he get more game time that Carberry in the meantime?
Coming out of November it is a massively positive time for Ireland. New players fighting for jerseys with experienced lads. Nothing bad can happen there. The players who many thought had seen better days have rebounded and shown class, Healy and Kearney. The defence and set piece looked good throughout. A few blips which need ironing out.
All in all, I think we are in a serious position to be holding the trophy next march. First up is France. Our big opening half will build points, but the massively stubborn French will come back. We need to step on their throat and put them away.
But more on that closer to the time. For now, enjoy the highlights.
As usual @nkeegan / https://itunes.apple.com/ie/podcast/the-couch-pundit/id1315569500?mt=2 / thecouchpundit.podbean.com