Tyrone Howe: Ireland must not pay the penalty in Pumas clash
Published 22/11/2012 | 08:00
I remember being coached at university by the ex-French coach Pierre Villepreux. He is a legend — the first French fullback to run the ball back rather than to return it via the boot.
In his style, he was in many ways the forerunner to that other French fullback legend Serge Blanco.
Villepreux told us that no matter where you were on the field, the first time you get a penalty you should run it.
His reasoning was that it laid down a mark of intent about how you wanted to play the game and eventually over eighty minutes if you maintained that approach, skill would be ultimate decider in which team would triumph.
He was a rugby apostle and believed in this approach whatever the level — university, club or international. Even by talking like this he inspired a more ambitious mindset in his players.
Conor O’Shea has instilled a similar ambition in his players at Harlequins so he may not have been too surprised when he watched England captain Chris Robshaw |(pictured) opt for the corner twice rather than take easier opportunities to get three points. However, given that the stakes are highest at international level it comes as no surprise that Robshaw’s decision-making has come in for some serious criticism.
It is one of the biggest dilemmas in rugby union — a perfect example of the relationship between risk and reward. It is also a classic example of the end justifying the means.
In Ireland’s recent defeat to South Africa we saw the visitors exercise that option early in the second-half. Instead of trying to claw back the gap through the reliable boot of Ruan Pienaar, they went for the jugular by pushing the ball into the corner and taking the lineout.
The pressure not only saw the departure of Jamie Heaslip but then Pienaar scored beneath the posts. In all senses, the perfect result.
In recent times, Ireland’s opponents this Saturday have taken the concept of grinding down a team to extreme.
Traditionally, Argentina’s strength revolves around their pack and in particular their scrummaging ability.
This apparent fixation with machismo has meant that skill and flair have sometimes been sacrificed at the altar of the scrum.
Argentina have often arrived with a limited gameplan, which has seen them play for penalties and build an innings through a mixture of territory, muscle and pressure.
They achieve that territory through an effective kicking game. Moreover, when Argentina have managed to get themselves into positive attacking positions they have reverted to attempting drop goals rather than keeping the ball in hand. Potential opportunities have gone abegging.
However, like the Bob Dylan song, ‘times they are a-changing’. There is a different feel about the Argentina squad that arrives in Ireland this week.
Their inclusion in the Southern Hemisphere ‘Rugby Championship’ has meant that rather than existing in relative isolation, their players are now exposed to regular rugby at the highest level. This has not only raised their standard of rugby, but also affected their style of play.
By engaging with the current top three rugby nations Argentina has been imbued with a new wave of ambition about how the game should be played.
This does not mean that they have compromised their traditional set-piece strength but instead they have added to this by embracing a more dynamic, balanced and attacking pattern of play.
How Declan Kidney approaches the match tactically will be intriguing.
The weather forecast is good this Saturday so will we witness both sides engaging in similar styles or will there be an Irish retrenchment to greater conservatism?
The former would need robust self-confidence from Ireland, which is dubious without key leaders.
The latter is the more likely scenario and may result in a tactical chess match.
Two other lines from that Bob Dylan song say ‘Then you better start swimmin. Or you'll sink like a stone’. It appears that the consequences of an Irish defeat would be dire in terms of World Cup ranking points.
In terms of second tier qualification for 2015 and one imagines Declan Kidney’s future, performance counts for little and winning is everything. For this reason, if penalties come on offer on Saturday, take the points.