IRELAND wrapped up their autumn international campaign with a hard-fought 17-3 victory over Argentina at Croke Park last weekend. With world ranking positions more important than ever due to the new seeding system ahead of the draw for the World Cup in New Zealand in 2011, last Saturday’s game was of huge significance to Ireland’s potential prospects ‘downunder’ in three years’ time. It was a must win game.
Prior to the clash at Croker, the last three meetings between the countries ended in favour of the Argentines, the last of those being the 30-15 victory in Paris that saw Ireland crash out of the World Cup in the pool stages. I was involved in all three of those defeats, having started in the two Tests in Argentina in June 2007 and then came off the bench in the dying moments of ‘that’ World Cup encounter. It’s not a great record and unfortunately after being called into the squad of 30 for the build-up to Saturday’s game, I didn’t make the match-day 22 so I will have to wait in hope of getting another crack at Los Pumas.
After a fractured display against Canada on a wet and windy night in Thomond Park and a disappointing second half against an All Blacks team who seem to be in cruise control on their Grand Slam mission tour, Ireland were searching for an improved performance.
There were of course certain areas that the coaches had highlighted for attention during the week, but the main focus was on the contact area and in particular winning the collisions. As evident in the defeat to the All Blacks, you can do little with or without the ball if you do not win the collisions. Argentina reached the semi-finals of the World Caup and climbed to fourth in the world rankings with a game plan based on the forwards controlling the breakdown area, allied to a strong kicking game. So the collisions would largely determine the outcome of the game yet again.
The visitors were of course badly hit by injury as two of their main creative sparks and match winners Felipe Contepomi and Juan Hernandez were ruled out prior to kick-off. Yet with their grizzly and powerful pack still intact and on form, they were still very much in the game until Ronan O’Gara’s 75th minute penalty extended Ireland’s lead to 12-3. A clever crossfield kick from the out-half then found Tommy Bowe minutes later and allowed the winger to stroll over in the corner to leave it 17-3 to the home team as the final whistle sounded.
Games involving Argentina never seem to be free-flowing, high tempo affairs. Their game plan, as mentioned above, plays to their strengths. It is very structured, almost predictable in its simplicity, but remains hugely effective. However last Saturday the Irish pack met their Argentine counter parts head on and with Santiago Fernandez having an off-day with the boot and Contepomi also missing, they had no plan B. While it wasn’t a vintage Irish performance by any stretch of the imagination, in a must-win game the players will take much satisfaction from the way they fronted up to the physical exchanges.
Securing eighth place in the rankings was the first and foremost goal during the autumn internationals. There were opportunities to beat Canada, New Zealand and Argentina in order to do so and in order to beat these teams Brian O’Driscoll and the lads would have been determined, as always, to play to the best of their ability, play great attacking rugby and score some cracking tries in the process. It didn’t quite work out that way, but the overall goal was achieved. Sure, there is much to work on ahead of the Six Nations in the New Year, but things could be a hell of a lot worse.
RAVENHILL will be a big test
HERE at Connacht we are eagerly looking forward to getting back into action this weekend as the Magners League resumes after a four-week break. After a disappointing result against Edinburgh last time out, we have a great opportunity to make amends up in Ulster this Friday night as we take on Ulster in Ravenhill.
Under Matt Williams the northern province have proven to be a better side this season, and will feel unlucky to have only won only two games so far this season. World Cup winner BJ Botha and fellow South African Robbie Diack have proved astute signings up front, while Fijian Timoci Nagusa has certainly added more pace out wide.
Ulster will be high on confidence following their victory over Munster, the same team that nearly beat the All Blacks, in their last outing four weeks ago. There is always a great atmosphere in Ravenhill, and no doubt it’ll be no different on Friday night.
THE ‘DELIGHTS’ OF DRUG TESTING
KERRY footballer Aidan O’Mahony has been making headlines in the news this past week. O’Mahony is the first GAA player to fail a drugs test and has been suspended pending an inquiry by the GAA after an ‘adverse finding’ regarding the use of salbutamol, a remedy used to treat asthma, was found in a sample of urine taken after the All-Ireland final.
The positive test will now require O’Mahony to show that the result was the consequence of the therapeutic use of inhaled salbutamol. The use of this remedy for asthma by athletes is allowed where the authorities are notified of a medical condition. A form must be filled in and submitted to authorities at least once a year in order to notify them of the medical condition that requires the use of such substances. It is believed that O’Mahony will indeed be able to prove his case.
Drug testing in rugby is a regular event. Drug testers from the Irish Sports Council can show up any time they wish be it off-season, pre-season, training camps or after matches. I once received a wake up-call at 8am while in a hotel with Ireland to say I was to report downstairs for a random drugs test.
Sometimes it can take players up to four or five hours to produce a sample after a game for example, dehydration and … er ... stage fright. You must have your top pulled up to your chest, your pants down to your knees and your sleeves rolled back to your elbows when producing a sample in order to prevent any possible tampering – two of the main reasons for the delay. Needless to say at that hour of the morning I ran down to reception on this occasion!
There are plans for regulations to be tightened further next year for all athletes across the sports governed by the Sports Council. As and from January 1, athletes may have to declare where they will be for at least one hour every day. If you ain’t where you said you’ll be and testers show up it may be considered a failed test. No matter what remedy you are taking, whether it is for a sore throat or a cough, it is always best to ask a team doctor what is safe to take.
Until a couple of years ago Lemsip was on the banned list! Better to be safe than sorry ...