Simon Mail previews Ireland's quarter-final clash with Argentina and does not expect the favourites to have it all their own way...
"Ireland have the edge in the recent head to heads after winning the last five matches against Argentina."
Ireland v Argentina
Sunday October 18, 13:00
Live on ITV
The third Rugby World Cup quarter-final looks arguably the tightest of all this weekend's ties with little to separate Ireland and Argentina in the betting. While Ireland have been hit by injury and suspension during a difficult week, the Pumas have been getting better by the match which sets up an intriguing clash at the Millennium Stadium.
It has been a tough build-up for the Irish despite claiming top spot in their pool and avoiding the All Blacks. Their victory over France came at quite a cost with the inspirational captain Paul O'Connell suffering a sad end to his international career after tearing his hamstring. Back row Peter O'Mahony was another casualty after a knee injury ruled him out of the tournament. Sean O'Brien is also unavailable after being suspended for striking an opponent.
But significantly Jonny Sexton has been passed fit for this weekend's match. The fly-half was a doubt with a groin injury but has been named in the team, after training on Friday, and his inclusion could make all the difference if this match is as tight as expected. Iain Henderson replaces O'Connell in the second row while Jordi Murphy and Chris Henry line up in the back row.
Joe Schmidt's side have made smooth progress through the tournament so far with wins in all four of their matches. Ireland were far from at their best in a scrappy 16-9 victory over Italy. But the side stepped up a gear last weekend as they pulled away to beat a disappointing France 24-9. Their most recent success was all the more impressive after overcoming a series of injuries during the game to key players such as O'Connell and Sexton.
Argentina have been mightily impressive in this tournament and their attacking flair has been the hallmark of their performances. After giving New Zealand plenty of problems, including leading at half time, the team were beaten 26-16 at Wembley. Comprehensive wins over Georgia, Tonga and Namibia have followed and Argentina have been prolific scoring 22 tries from four matches.
Ireland have the edge in the recent head to heads after winning the last five matches against Argentina. The last two victories both came in South America under Schmidt in June 2014 but it must be said the Pumas have made great strides since then. Both of those wins were by 12 points or less and there is every reason to think this World Cup clash will be just as close.
Keeping Argentina at bay will be a true test for the Irish but Schmidt's side are blessed with an excellent defence having conceded just two tries in their four matches. This has all the makings of a tight contest and Ireland's kicking orientated gameplan will attempt to frustrate their opponents and clinically capitalise on any opportunities. Schmidt has drilled his team into a winning machine, with back-to-back Six Nations titles, and Ireland can grind out a narrow victory in Cardiff.
With Sexton fit to play there is always the likelihood of Ireland building up a lead through penalties. The Irish have opened the scoring with three points in all four World Cup matches so this is well worth a bet as the first scoring play. But Argentina have potent attacking threats throughout their side and wing Juan Imhoff, who scored a hat-trick in their summer win in South Africa, has three tries in this tournament. Imhoff looks generously priced to add to this tally in Cardiff on Sunday.
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