Six Nations Grand Slam holders Ireland host Argentina in a one-off Test and should undergo a tough examination ahead of a clash with world champions New Zealand
Dublin (AFP) - Six Nations Grand Slam champions Ireland host Argentina in a one-off rugby union Test at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
The Irish will see this as a tough examination ahead of next week’s clash of the top two sides in the world – themselves and number one New Zealand.
AFP Sports highlights three potential talking points:
Argentina enjoyed two victories under new coach Mario Ledesma in the Rugby Championship and will hope fatigue does not ruin their chances of the prized scalp of Six Nations Grand Slam winners Ireland
Argentina emerged from the Rugby Championship under new coach Mario Ledesma with a creditable two victories, including their first in Australia since 1983. A vibrant backline – youngsters Emiliano Boffelli and Bautista Delguy scored thee tries apiece – should give an Irish defence, without the experienced injured fullback Rob Kearney, a testing time. However, that may well depend on how tired they are following constant travelling during the tournament and fatigue certainly might have played a part in how they imploded against Australia at home, letting slip a 31-7 half-time lead to lose 45-34. Ledesma will hope last year’s clash with the Irish in Dublin is more of a guide as they finished the stronger although it was not enough to snatch victory.
The Murray factor
Scrum-half Kieran Marmion will partner fly-half Jonathan Sexton against Argentina in the absence of the latter's long-time half-back partner Conor Murray
Star fly-half Jonathan Sexton lining up without scrum-half Conor Murray alongside him in a green shirt is almost a collector’s item. Murray, though, has not been risked as he is yet to play this season due to a neck injury. Kieran Marmion fills the huge gap – only his sixth start in his 23rd Test. Head coach Joe Schmidt has no concerns about the ‘pocket rocket’, as he describes the 26-year-old Connacht scrum-half. “He is the guy who, when we lost Conor on the Thursday before playing England a couple of years ago, stepped straight in and did a great job,” said Schmidt, referring to when the Irish beat England in 2017 denying them a successive Grand Slam. “So he’s had the most experience (of the three options to start at scrum-half), and he’s a great little player for us.” Despite his confidence, the Pumas will be heartened by the absence of Murray and be looking at Marmion as a potential weak link, although, he too will be seeking to dash those hopes and make him the undisputed number two to Murray and also a certain starter for the All Blacks match.
O’Brien seeks to prove there’s something left in tank
Irish flanker Sean O'Brien returns from yet another absence through injury determined to prove he can still perform at Test level
Sean O’Brien is a world class flanker as two British and Irish Lions tours attest but injury has been an unwelcome bedfellow down the years and once again he faces question marks over whether he can come back at this level. However, the player nicknamed ‘The Tullow Tank’ because of his rampaging runs, says there is no question of allowing himself to get down about the great moments he has missed but to play well and retain his place so that he too can enjoy the potential high points to come. “Every chance you get to pull on the green jersey is a special one. I’ve an opportunity to wear it this week and I have to do a good job of it,” said the 31-year-old who missed out on the Grand Slam campaign because of injury. Schmidt has hailed O’Brien. “He has a contagious confidence. He’s robust, he’s experienced and people see him doing things on the pitch and they go, ‘yeah, I can get into this game on the back of that’,” said Schmidt. O’Brien, though, is well aware that the back row is one where the Irish are blessed with talent and there will be no room for sentiment should he fail to sparkle on Saturday.