Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has admitted that he has gone for experience in this Saturday’s second Test against Argentina, as he fears his side may have to deal with a Pumas backlash.
His side won the first Test in Resistencia on a 29-17 scoreline, however, the South Americans gave a solid account of themselves and troubled Schmidt’s team for large periods, especially in the first 40 minutes.
Tucumán is the heartland of Argentine rugby and Schmidt feels that Los Pumas will be determined to improve on their performance levels and give an even better account of themselves than they did in Resistencia.
Schmidt, who has made eight changes from the XV that started last week, explained his reasoning to the press: “We tried to keep a little bit of a spine through the team. I mentioned earlier that Damien Varley made a good impact off the bench last weekend.
“I thought Robbie Diack played really well. And I thought Felix Jones was pretty flawless at full-back, apart from one time when he knocked the ball back in the ’22 and we put it out.
“Those guys unfortunately missed out to guys that had a lot of freshness - Rob Kearney coming in for Felix for example. He’s got a lot of experience as well. We just feel that there could be a bit of an Argentinean backlash.
“The fact is that they’ll be wanting to make sure [they perform well], in what is the heart of rugby in Argentina, in Tucumán; they’ve got six Tucumán men involved in the game on Saturday.
“[We’ve got to show] that little bit of experience, to make sure we weather that 20-minute storm.
“I just feel there’s that little bit of security about that [using experienced players in the starting XV] and we’ll give guys an opportunity off the bench from there.”
“The fact is that they’ll be wanting to make sure [they perform well], in what is the heart of rugby in Argentina, in Tucumán; they’ve got six Tucumán men involved in the game on Saturday" - said Schmidt
Schmidt also highlighted that he was keen to involve as many players as possible in the starting teams on the two-Test tour, and give them reward for their efforts behind-the-scenes.
“We brought 29 players away on tour and we wanted to make sure this system recognised the amount of effort they made on the training pitch, and to be well prepared to train well, and they all have so we wanted to give them the opportunity to express that in a Test-match arena,” said Schmidt.”
Robbie Diack, Kieran Marmion and Rodney Ah You all debuted in last week’s Test, while Rob Herring, James Cronin and Noel Reid are on the bench for Saturday and could all come on to make their own debuts.
Schmidt was full of praise for the trio and believes their development this season has been superb as has been their dedication and commitment.
Schmidt said: “It’s a massive day for them. They’ve all acquitted themselves really well. We’ve been massively impressed with how they’ve acquitted themselves in the training environment and also in the way they have prepared themselves to make sure that the training changes are reasonably seamless.
“For James Cronin, his whirlwind progression from just getting a start this year with Munster right through to potentially getting on in a Test match is fantastic for him.
“I don’t think any of those three guys are the finished product, but it will be another step towards giving them the confidence to continue to grow and hopefully add further value to us.”
Ireland XV to play Argentina: 15 Rob Kearney; 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Fergus McFadden, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Simon Zebo; 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan; 1 Dave Kilcoyne, 2 Rory Best, 3 Mike Ross; 4 Devin Toner, 5 Paul O’Connell (captain); 6 Rhys Ruddock, 7 Chris Henry, 8 Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 James Cronin, 18 Jack McGrath, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Noel Reid.