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Repeat: Off The Ball


Ireland should start this team against Argentina next week

Ireland are in a great position after wins against Japan and New Zealand. Andy Farrell can experiment, blood young players and give opportunities to fringe options as much as he wants to against Argentina.

Ireland face Argentina on Sunday in their final Autumn Nations Series game.

After convincing victories over Japan and New Zealand, it's mission accomplished for Andy Farrell and his squad.

Ireland got everything they could have asked for. They got both results and they got dominant, dynamic performances relying on young and older players alike. It wasn't all about Jonathan Sexton and it wasn't a negative playing style. Ian Foster called their All Blacks performance the best performance he's seen against his New Zealand team.

So with that in mind, Ireland have some freedom entering the Argentina game.

There is no pressure to play anyone after the first two weeks. Ireland don't need to get a result or correct anything in any position. Farrell can send many of his players home early if he so chooses. The Argentina game will be about giving experience to younger players and opportunities to fringe players trying to push for starting spots.

Fortunately for fans going to the game, Ireland have plenty of exciting players who fit that description.


1. Dave Kilcoyne

The Munster man has always played well when given opportunities for Ireland. For most nations, Dave Kilcoyne would be a 50-cap international if he stayed healthy. But for Ireland, he's unfortunate to be behind two exceptional talents in Cian Healy and Andrew Porter.

Starting Healy in this game might make sense but Ireland gain more from Kilcoyne starting. He's not young but he has two years on Cian Healy, making him the more likely backup for the next World Cup.


2. Dan Sheehan

Ronan Kelleher won't be losing his starting spot anytime soon after that performance. Kelleher was so good against the All Blacks that you can take him out of this squad altogether. He has nothing to gain from playing. Rob Herring is 31 years old and has already had his shot at being Ireland's full-time starter. He's an adequate option but not an exciting one.

Sheehan is 23 and has 11 impressive appearances for Leinster under his belt. It's very early for him to start his first game, but there's also no reason to hold him back at this point. The Argentina pack will provide the right level of competition to accelerate his development.


3. Finlay Bealham

Ireland have two options for the tighthead spot. Neither is Tadhg Furlong.

Bealham is 30 years of age and was the primary backup last week. He's actually played quite a lot for Ireland. He has 18 caps. But he also made his debut in 2016 and spent most of the last five years sat behind Andrew Porter and Furlong. Bealham projects to be Ireland's long-term backup until Tom O'Toole proves himself capable. He needs these repetitions so he can be ready for the Six Nations.


4. Ryan Baird

Thomas Ahearne and Ryan Baird were the talk of the second rows 12 months ago. They're still projected to be very good players but Ireland have a glut of talent at the position right now. Ireland have so much talent at second row that Tadhg Beirne was their best player in last year's Six Nations, a Test Lion against South Africa and couldn't start last week. Baird's athleticism is insane, he needs to prove himself at set-piece time and around the field without the ball.


Ireland Beirne 13 November 2021; Tadhg Beirne of Ireland celebrates at the final whistle after his side's victory during the Autumn Nations Series match between Ireland and New Zealand at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

5. Tadhg Beirne

After not starting last week, Beirne makes sense as the veteran who can come in and lead this younger group.


6. Nick Timoney

A young ball-carrying six with great athleticism who can play eight as well. Ireland have one of them and he scored a great try against New Zealand on Saturday. They have a second one in Nick Timoney. The Dubliner is a former sevens player who has thrived since moving to number eight in place of the departed Marcell Coetzee at Ulster.

Timoney brings an important level of athleticism as the Ireland pack will need to match the abrasive style of the Argentinians. He will also need to show up all over the field as Ireland don't have a second natural openside flanker.


7. Peter O'Mahony

That turnover was spectacular. A throwback to Peter O'Mahony's prime. O'Mahony is perfect in his role as the calming substitute off the bench. With a very inexperienced hooker and one inexperienced second row, having him for the set piece is vital. O'Mahony is not a natural seven, especially not at this stage of his career, but he'll do a job there without a better alternative.


8. Gavin Coombes

If you're a Munster back-row forward, there aren't many seals of approval more valuable than David Wallace's. Gavin Coombes has that. The Munster number eight is proving to be too powerful for opponents at club level. He's already impressed in an Ireland jersey and will take this opportunity to push for a place on the bench during the Six Nations.


9. Craig Casey

There's an argument for starting Conor Murray because he needs game time. But he can get that with Munster over the coming months. Murray should be ready to go for the Six Nations, although Jamison Gibson-Park remains the favourite to start. The diminutive Craig Casey has shown he can overcome his lack of size for Munster, but how will he hold up against an Argentina team at international level?

Ireland need to find out how Casey reacts in a tense environment.


13 November 2021; Joey Carbery of Ireland kicks a penalty during the Autumn Nations Series match between Ireland and New Zealand at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

10. Joey Carbery

No question here. Give him as much game time as possible.


11. Jordan Larmour

It's been a sudden fall for grace from Jordan Larmour. He's a forgotten man at this point. He's not close to starting for Ireland right now but he can still work his way back into Andy Farrell's long-term thinking. At the very least, Larmour is exceptionally talented and somewhat versatile, even though questions remain for him as a fullback.

He's the type of player who can take over a game against lesser opposition and be a valuable member of any squad even while he's not starting and in his best form.


12. Ciaran Frawley

We'll learn more about Andy Farrell's commitment to this new playing style this week. If Ireland start Stuart McCloskey at 12, then the traditional thinking is still prevalent in what Ireland want to do. If Ireland start Ciaran Frawley at 12, strap in for a game of expansive, attacking rugby. Frawley is good enough to play internatinoal rugby, he's just very unlikely to get many starts because of the quality ahead of him.

Still, if Ireland are going to create a Plan B playing style, something they do still need even after the last couple of weeks, then getting Frawley game time as the second playmaker in this scenario is ideal.

This would be Frawley's debut.


13. Keith Earls

Keith Earls came on against New Zealand in the centre out of necessity. He can play anywhere in the backline and will fill in during this game to accommodate the younger players around him. Earls' communication and presence will settle those around him, so keeping him closer to the middle of the field rather than throwing him out to the wing makes sense.

Earls will also create a dynamic combination with Frawley. He understands how to create and take advantage of space, as well as defend from the 13 position.


14. Robert Baloucoune

The specialist finisher is in a similar position to Jordan Larmour. His prospects of starting for Ireland in a big game anytime soon are unlikely. Baloucoune may have benefited from Jacob Stockdale's ankle injury to make the squad in the first place, but don't overlook his potential. He's excelled for Ulster over recent years and has the ability to be a gamebreaker on the highest level.


10 November 2021; Simon Zebo arrives for Ireland rugby squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Kildare. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

15. Simon Zebo

With Carbery, Frawley and Simon Zebo in the starting line-up, Ireland have three playmakers in their starting 15. Zebo was never going to go straight into the first team on his return from France. But for as good as Hugo Keenan is, Zebo is still talented enough to push him for his position. There are a couple of Munster men competing for that 23 jersey right now. Zebo is right there with Keith Earls.

A good game against Argentina solidifies his status as Ireland's second-choice fullback.


16. Rob Herring

Herring is a known commodity. He will give Sheehan relief in the second half and preserve Kelleher's body.


17. Cian Healy

The veteran star doesn't need to play in this game. His presence will be valuable during warm-ups and from the bench. Healy's leadership can set the tone for the younger players and serve as a calming influence. Like O'Mahony in the starting lineup, he's a pillar of this team and an example for everyone else to follow.


18. Tom O'Toole

O'Toole will be hoping to get at least 30 minutes off the bench. He has one cap for Ireland already. Adding a second before his 24th birthday puts him in a good spot.


19. Ultan Dillane

Ultan Dillane has been surpassed by Ryan Baird as the exciting young prospect in the Irish second row. He's still more than capable of playing international rugby, but he misses out on a starting spot with Beirne in the line-up. He would be an early substitution off the bench to give Beirne an early exit, assuming all goes to plan.


20. James Ryan

With Beirne in the second row and three versatile back row starters, Ireland can keep James Ryan on the bench for emergency use only.


21. Conor Murray

He must be sick of sitting on the bench by now. But this probably isn't a game where he'll mind too much. Maybe a strong performance from his Munster teammate will light a fire in the scrum-half.


22. Harry Byrne

In a perfect world, Joey Carbery will play an hour and Byrne will play the final 20 minutes. Byrne is still very much in the development stages of his young career so 20 minutes off the bench to acclimatize is ideal.


23. James Hume

Since Ireland have at least four backs starting who can play fullback and wing, James Hume can come off the bench and play outside centre no matter the situation. The 23-year-old back has played some outstanding rugby for Ulster, showing off explosiveness and decisiveness with the ball in hand.

Ireland-New Zealand Player Ratings


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Andy Farrell Ireland Rugby Ireland Vs Argentina Joey Carbery Simon Zebo