You usually have to wait until the back end of a Six Nations or a World Cup to see it but Ireland are close to boiling point as they prepare to meet Argentina on Saturday in a game that will dictate the order of business for the next three years.
Training ground tension is nothing new for rugby players — some coaches consider it a pre-requisite for a decent performance — but it usually precedes the championship days, not an autumn international.
Yet this weekend’s clash with the Pumas at the Aviva Stadium is no ordinary Test. It may be a friendly on the International Rugby Board’s calendar but with world rankings determining the seedings for the 2015 World Cup pool draw which takes place a week on Monday, this is Ireland’s only chance to stop their slide out of the top eight and into the hat marked ‘outsiders’.
And the game is one in which flanker Chris Henry says has leant itself to a real intensity in training this week.
“Yeah, there is bite and there are people fighting,” Henry said. “You do all the training you want but obviously there’s a lot to it about how you turn up on the match and the physicality and the aggression you bring to it whenever the adrenalin’s pumping. There’s a lot to be said about that as well. I think there’s a mixture of both there.”
Ulster’s Henry, set to earn his fourth cap this weekend, knows that he and his fellow back-rowers will be at the forefront of taking that physicality and aggression to the Argentinians at the breakdown. And a fortnight after an intensely bruising loss to South Africa, Henry knows there will be no let up from an equally powerful Pumas contingent.
“I think the South African back row probably aren’t going to be as mobile as this Argentina back row, so they’re going to be very physical and great on the ball but also slightly different,” Henry said.
“All the back rowers have been talking this week about what a massive challenge the breakdown’s going to be. It’s been bubbling already in training and today was probably the edgiest training session of this campaign and, from teams I’ve been involved with in the past, when you’re this edgy this early in the week and you’re getting tetchy with your team-mates, that’s probably a good sign.
“It’s boiling up and losing to South Africa definitely was one of the hardest moments of my rugby career. I think getting the Fiji win and scoring those tries that we scored, people talk about it not being a full Test match but I think we used it in the right way and it was great to score tries and to actually enjoy a rugby game.
“I think if we can get the balance right between the hurt of the first game and the confidence of the second game then hopefully we’ll be flying for this week.”
For all the positives taken from the 53-0 win over Fiji, the game was still marked by a lack of accuracy at the breakdown, not least from Henry, who was yellow carded at Thomond Park. Those are misdemeanours Ireland can ill afford against Argentina.
“I certainly was massively disappointed with myself for giving it away. You’re going for a 50-50 and if I’d stayed on my feet a wee bit more, another referee might have let it go but it’s about using your head and I think last week when I came on it was that rush of blood. South Africa was the exact same and there’s times when we’ve got to just take the safe option and not give away those softies.”
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