Joe Schmidt has selected an inexperienced side to play Argentina on Saturday, in the first of a two-Test tour. Find out more about the team below...
IRELAND have never won a Test match in Argentina, but that hasn’t stopped Joe Schmidt from resting many of Leinster’s RaboDirect Pro12 finalists and selecting an inexperienced side to face Argentina on Saturday. There are smatterings of old heads in the side who will play in the Resistencia’s first international at the Estadio Centenario, and Schmidt hopes they will help build on the visitors’ 8-5 head-to-head win ratio.
The biggest talking point of this tour was always going to surround the man auditioning in the No 13 jersey, now that Brian O’Driscoll has retired. Several contenders have been taken out of the equation this time around, namely Tommy Bowe and Robbie Henshaw, both injured, Keith Earls, who came down with a bout of gasterointeritis the day the team was due to fly, and Jared Payne, who is not yet Ireland-qualified though many see him providing a stop-gap for next year’s World Cup. Darren Cave will win his sixth cap at outside centre, alongside Luke Marshall, and though this partnership is untested at Test level the pairing have impressed at their province, Ulster, this season.
Schmidt said: “I’m looking for Darren to continue being the clever player he is. His passing game has improved and that gives us the scope to play. He’s intelligent with the lines he runs, and he’s a smart defender and creator of play. He’s perhaps not the same finisher that Brian was, but we’re not trying to replace that exactly.”
Schmidt has also picked a brand new back row. South African Robbie Diack will make his Ireland debut at blindside, and he’s partnered by Ulster team-mate Chris Henry (openside), who performed well during the Six Nations, and Leinster’s Jordi Murphy at No 8.
“Diack will offer value in the lineout,” said Schmidt. “He’s a very good lineout player, and with his workrate we’re hoping he will give us an edge in the back end of the game.
“Thunder storms are forecast, but even so we have to make our set piece as good as we can make it. Jordi Murphy is very dynamic, and we hope he’ll have a few opportunities off the back of the scrum, while giving Jamie Heaslip the chance to recover a bit (from last weekend).
“James Coughlan has decided to go to Pau though he was a player we were interested in, but now perhaps Jordi Murphy and Robin Copeland are the future alongside Jamie Heaslip and Peter O’Mahony.”
With eight changes in the team since Ireland’s final game of the Six Nations in Paris, and just two training sessions under their belts so far in Argentina, Schmidt is glad to be able to rely on consistency at half-back, where Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton will start. Ireland’s player of the year, Andrew Trimble, starts on the right wing, linking up with Simon Zebo, who wins his first cap under Schmidt, and Felix Jones at full-back.
Jack McGrath starts in the berth vacated by Cian Healy, alongside mainstays Rory Best and Mike Ross in the front row, and Iain Henderson partners captain Paul O’Connell in the second row. Schmidt said: “It’s ideal for Iain to play alongside the master, and it gives Toner a breather after he played 80 minutes on Saturday.”
The team have faced the challenge of having to travel up to 55 minutes from their hotel in Buenos Aires for each training session so far, though they were given a warm welcome from green-shirted fans at the Hurling Club earlier this week. The team has now landed safely in the northern province of Chaco, and will have their final run around during the captain’s run at the stadium tomorrow.
Schmidt continued: “I’m never confident, but always hopeful. At this stage we just hope the combinations are going to work, and we’ve worked hard to make this more likely.”
Ireland XV to face Argentina: Felix Jones; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Simon Zebo; Jonny Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Iain Henderson, Paul O’Connell (capt), Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Jordi Murphy.
Reps: Damien Varley, Dave Kilcoyne, Rodney Ah You, Devin Toner, Jamie Heaslip, Kieran Marmion, Ian Madigan, Fergus McFadden.
Watch highlights from Ireland’s 46-24 win over Argentina in November 2012 below
Read interviews with Andrew Trimble and Jordi Murphy in the July edition of Rugby World. Plus you can see who makes our Ireland XV for 2015. Click here to see what else is in the magazine this month.