Ireland are banking on the players that narrowly lost to South Africa to do the business against Argentina in Dublin tomorrow, in a Test match the hosts are labeling a “Cup Final.”
Irish coach Declan Kidney has made just one change to the side beaten 16-12 by the Springboks a fortnight ago at Lansdowne Road, with Ulster wing Craig Gilroy rewarded with a starting place after his hat-trick against Fiji in last Saturday’s non-cap international in Limerick.
Gilroy’s provincial teammate Andrew Trimble is the man to miss out, but the rest of the first-choice XV remain for a game that is to secure the victors a place in the top eight of the International Rugby Board rankings, which are being used to determine the seedings for the 2015 World Cup draw in December.
Ireland are on a run of five Test defeats in a row and this year has seen the country experience its worst sequence of results in the professional era.
Dropping into the third tier of seeds for next month’s World Cup draw would leave Ireland with the possibility of being selected in a pool containing two major nations.
Kidney will point to him being without the highly influential Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney this month because of injury, but the lack of consistency since winning the 2009 Six Nations Grand Slam has been startling.
A revamped Argentina offer little comfort despite Ireland having won the last two meetings between the countries.
Much of the talk this week has been about how the South Americans have changed their game, with less emphasis on their undoubted strength up front, and a new eagerness to display their abilities behind the outside flanker.
Argentina competed in the Rugby Championship for the first time this year and Ireland’s Keith Earls observed a difference in their approach.
“They have played seven or even eight games, so they are well into it and they are a great squad,” he said. “Obviously they have done a lot of work and Graham Henry [New Zealand’s World Cup-winning coach] was in with them for a while during the Rugby Championship, and they are just not a one-to-10 team now.”
Argentina coach Santiago Phelan has made four changes to his team from the one that lost to France in Lille last week, with fullback Juan Martin Hernandez proving his fitness sufficiently to take the No. 15 shirt.
Maximiliano Bustos has been handed a debut in the front row, while Santiago Fernandez and Gonzalo Camacho complete the changes in the backline.
Beaten 19-3 and 29-9 in their last two visits to Dublin, Argentina are hoping to put up more of a fight this time around.
“In 2010, maybe we were tired at this stage,” Camacho said of the Pumas, who started this tour with a bang by beating Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales in Cardiff. “Now we have more confidence and a team that is growing, we have a new team with new people coming up.”
Pumas lock Manuel Carizza added: “It’s unusual for us to be together five months in a year. We are enjoying it and learning a lot. We learned a lot from the Rugby Championship. It always felt like a club team because we are very close and have a great group, but now we have a lot of time together.”