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Peter Stringer: Johnny's kicking will be crucial in punishing indiscipline from Argentina

Our World Cup columnist previews the World Cup quarter-final.

Rugby Union - Millennium Stadium File Photo The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff plays host to Ireland versus Argentina on Sunday. Source: David Davies

THIS OFF-SEASON HAS definitely been one of the longest of my career, but thankfully it comes to an end this weekend in north London and I can finally make my debut for Sale Sharks.

It’s been great getting to know everyone at the club and settling into a new environment, but competitive games are what you work hard for so I can’t wait for tomorrow’s opening game of the Aviva Premiership season against Saracens, one of my former clubs.

After the game I’ll be making my way to Bristol, where I’ll stay tomorrow night. On Sunday morning I’ll head to Cardiff for another game I’m eagerly looking forward to, but this time I can watch from the sidelines and enjoy what should be a really intriguing World Cup quarter-final between Ireland and Argentina at the Millennium Stadium.

We’re into knockout rugby now for this World Cup and there’s a different sense about the tournament in contrast to the Pool stages. It’s a fairly level playing field and almost all of the eight teams will believe they have a chance of going all the way.

At this stage of the competition, results completely usurp performances. If you get a 3-0 win you’ll take it every time. Tactics and game-plans may come to the fore a little bit more as teams aim to do whatever it takes to win, but hopefully that won’t be to the detriment of the entertainment value because we’ve had some fantastic rugby so far — open and expansive with plenty of great tries.

Johnny Sexton Johnny Sexton has been passed fit to start for Ireland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But with the calibre of the teams we have remaining, I’m sure that won’t be a concern. It’s do-or-die rugby involving the best players in the world and that should make for a very exciting weekend from a spectator’s point of view.

The major talking point from an Irish perspective is Johnny Sexton’s injury. From my own experience, if you’re carrying a knock into a game it might play on your mind during the week, but if you come through that final run-out pain-free beforehand, that can give you the confidence and peace of mind to go in and do your job.

With Johnny’s groin injury, I believe it’s his non-kicking foot so that’s something to be thankful for at least. It might be on his mind right up until the warm-up, but as soon as he comes through that, adrenaline will take over and it’ll be put to one side because there’s more than enough to occupy your thoughts during a game of this magnitude.

Nevertheless, if Johnny was a serious doubt I don’t think they’d risk him. He’s obviously fit enough to play, particularly given that Ian Madigan is in such good form from the bench. I have no doubt that Johnny is entirely confident of going out and doing his job as well as he always does.

Sonny Bill Williams Argentina had a thrilling battle with the All Blacks in their opening World Cup game. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Having lost three members of the pack from the France game, it was especially important in terms of continuity to keep the back-line together. Already without Paul O’Connell, Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony, it would have been devastating had Johnny been added to that list of casualties too.

My own memories of playing against Argentina are that they’re an extremely physical side who will always look to get under your skin. They would drag you down to their level. They also look to cheat at every available opportunity. There’s an aggression and a passion in them which they use in their favour. It’s in their nature, their Latin blood. But you can flip that around on them as well.

They become quite indisciplined if things start to turn against them and they can subsequently cough up a lot of penalties. On a big stage like this under the scrutiny of the referee, that’s something that may very well happen on Sunday. If it does, Johnny’s kicking will be crucial.

But to Argentina’s absolute credit, we’ve seen huge improvements in the way they play the game in the last few seasons. Playing regularly against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa is obviously paying dividends for them. They’re together more often and there are players in their side who are with some of the best clubs all across Europe.

Peter Stringer Peter Stringer in action for Ireland against Argentina at the Aviva Stadium in November 2010. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The brand of rugby I’ve seen from Argentina in this World Cup is one I wouldn’t have played against myself. When I played against them, their strategy was built on a strong pack and keeping the ball among the forwards. Their outside backs wouldn’t have had much to offer, but in this World Cup we’ve seen them score some fantastic tries and they’ve enjoyed throwing the ball around.

Will we see that again on Sunday? I’m not sure if they’ll be brave enough to do that against Ireland. They’ve come out in the press and claimed that they’re not going to change anything. I think the back-row battle between the two teams will be a key element but Argentina do have the ability to score tries out wide as well.

The Argentinians would love nothing more than to send Ireland home on Sunday. They’ve beaten us more often than we would have liked over the years, but I don’t think Sunday will be their day. If Ireland stick to the game-plan Joe Schmidt has formulated, and if they can stay disciplined and kick the penalties when they come, I expect an Irish win by seven-to-nine points.

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About the author:

Peter Stringer  / Ex-Ireland and Munster scrum-half, now with Sale Sharks.

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