By Brendan O'Brien
Preparations for Saturday’s meeting with Argentina have, to put it mildly, been challenging but Garry Ringrose isn’t tempted to reach for any excuses ahead of Ireland’s clash with the South Americans.
Joe Schmidt’s 42-man squad was split in two last week, between those who travelled to Chicago to face Italy and those who remained at home to train at HQ in Kildare, and the after effects of that Stateside trip took some time to drain from the system.
The travelling party arrived back from the American midwest in two batches yesterday morning. Ringrose was on the earlier flight, arriving into Dublin at 7am after a journey accompanied by one significant patch of turbulence and only some fitful pockets of sleep. Another few hours of shut eye were banked by the transatlantic crew back at the team hotel before the Leinster centre fronted up for media duties and an afternoon and early evening of review and preview sessions, meetings and ‘recovery protocols’.
It will be today before the American brigade return to the training paddock.
“It is a challenge,” said Ringrose of the fractured run-in. “That motivates everyone that little bit more. It would be easy to start pulling out excuses. Everyone knows they are going to have to raise it to another level. It is just about banking the detail as early as possible.
Added to all this is the fact that Argentina should be in much better shape than last time given most of the side that lost to Ireland 28-19 12 months ago were playing their last game in an exhausting, globe-trotting, 12-month season for the Jaguares and the Pumas.
The team that fronts up this weekend has shown signs of significant improvement under new coach Mario Ledesma in the Rugby Championship and has been prepping in camp for weeks ahead of what will be their opening offering in this November window.
They will be fresh, motivated, and capable.
“Individually they are very strong,” said Ringrose. “Certainly across the back line they have guys that can beat you one-on-one any day of the week. So that will be a huge challenge, the individual battles and defensively, because they are so good in attack.
“Their shape is improving year on year. You can see that they are getting to the edge more effectively and they are pretty good at winning the gain line. And if you don’t match them up front it can be a long day — as they have shown in games just gone.”
Ringrose didn’t feature in the win against Argentina last November but he saw enough of the attacking threat presented by their back line that day and one that has been on show time and again throughout the recent Rugby Championship.
It remains to be seen what part, if any, Ringrose will play against them this time after his 80-minute turn in Chicago. His presence on the earlier flight home could be seen as one sign that he will tog out but then where does that leave him for the New Zealand game next week?
Three games on the trot is doable but is it desirable?
Schmidt must choose two from a trio comprising of Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, and Bundee Aki knowing both Argentina and the world champions will sorely test an Irish defence that has proven to be susceptible to probes out by the flanks.
In that sense, there are few more important players than the man wearing 13.
It is, by common consent, the most difficult defensive station on the pitch. Ringrose has a fine balance to strike in such exposed surrounds and there have been times for club and country when he has shot out of the line and found himself bypassed as a result.
It’s a hazard of his trade.
“So its a collective thing. It never relies on one person defensively. It does play an important part, and it will against Argentina with the game they play, but everyone will know that they have to be on point for it to be successful on the weekend.
“In terms of my own game, I don’t know, I even got beaten once or twice on the inside shoulder the last day and probably had opportunities to make more aggressive impact tackles that I didn’t take full advantage of.
“So that will be something for me, if I get the shot this week, that I’ll look to improve on.”