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We've learned from World Cup pain: Best

 

By Jonathan Bradley

For a side who have never won in Dublin ahead of tonight's visit (5.30pm), few teams have inflicted more pain on Ireland in recent years than Argentina.

The indignity of a World Cup exit in 1999, followed by a similar, if not quite so shocking, setback in 2007, was followed up with yet more heartache two years ago.

Having negotiated their way past France in the pool stages, avoiding the All Blacks in the process, the Pumas were all that stood in the way of Joe Schmidt's men and a first ever World Cup semi.

Decimated by injury, the Irish were torn to shreds though, eventually losing 43-20 in a result that has had lingering ramifications in its effect on how Schmidt views the developing of squad depth.

His captain Rory Best, though, downplays any notion that tonight's final autumn international has a faint whiff of revenge.

"In the immediate aftermath we were very disappointed, but that was two years ago," said Best.

"It was a disappointing day for Irish rugby, but two thirds of this Saturday's starting team weren't there.

"We hope that we've improved our depth and that we never get into that situation again.

"We got lucky with injuries in the two years in the build-up to the last World Cup and so weren't forced to build some elements of depth.

"But since then our hand has been forced a bit, and so it's been about giving people opportunities.

"I feel the squad's in a stronger place now, and that's mainly because people have had opportunities."

As Best says, the turnover in the panel means that only eight of tonight's 23 took part in that game in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, although starters Johnny Sexton, Peter O'Mahony and Sean O'Brien were in the World Cup squad only to miss the crucial defeat.

The freshness of the squad is perhaps best evidenced in the second-row where it will be Leinster's James Ryan joining Iain Henderson rather than Devin Toner.

While Toner, such a reliable figure for Schmidt since the coach arrived in Ireland, surely has plenty of rugby left ahead of him, the selection is certainly one that will have a ripple effect towards the next World Cup in Japan.

Ryan, who won his first Test cap against USA last summer before he'd even made his provincial bow, is someone who has impressed the vastly more experienced Best, the skipper wanting to see the youngster show his leadership qualities on the big stage.

"James Ryan doesn't want a lot for physicality, and that's hugely impressive at his age," said the Ulsterman of the former Ireland Under-20s captain.

"The hardest thing is to go out and impose your own game on the opposition.

"What we've told him is that it doesn't matter how old you are, just go out and show us what we've seen from him with Leinster and the Under-20s.

"He's a genuine physical presence, and there aren't too many of them in Ireland.

"We're getting better at producing them but the gene pool is a little bit smaller than, say, the likes of South Africa who naturally have a lot of big men. You're born with that physical presence but it's making sure we get the most out of that.

"There's no point being this big, physical character if you go into your shell.

"We've seen bits of it and the fact he captained the Under-20s shows that he's a big character and it's important we get that out of him.

"It mustn't just be that he fits in, it's that he must fit in, but add something as well.

"We want him to fit in, and we want him to make a difference as well by playing his own game. But we also want him to be contributing as a leader. And I've no doubt that from the early signs, that will come."

If Ireland aren't out for revenge, Best's opposite number Agustin Creevy is focused on ending his side's own poor run in Dublin.

"We hope to change that run, knowing that we have never won here," he said.

"We feel we can make history but we know Ireland are in one of their best moments ever. Probably it will be a more than interesting game for us."

Bradley's Verdict

Ireland's record against Argentina has been horrid at World Cups but they have always taken care of business on these shores. With the Pumas having won just twice this season, and even that only against Georgia and Italy, Joe Schmidt will expect to maintain that record, even if his side will know they've been in a game.

Belfast Telegraph

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