Robbie Henshaw could prove to be a talismanic figure once again when Ireland tackle Argentina in Sunday’s quarter-final at the Millennium Stadium, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Henshaw missed Ireland’s first two World Cup games due to a hamstring injury, and although he made a timely return for their win over Italy, it was really in last Sunday’s clash against France that he displayed his added value.
A much-needed spark in the second half was provided by his impressive break in the 49th minute, which ultimately created the opportunity for fullback Rob Kearney to crash over. This shifted the momentum completely.
Henshaw ended the match with impressive figures as the player who made the most metres on attack (73) and most carries across the gainline (14).
And while Ireland have suffered a triple blow up front, after losing Paul O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony (both injured) and Sean O'Brien (suspended), their backline has remained unchanged.
In a massive boost, Johnny Sexton has overcome an adductor injury, while Keith Earls has also recovered after taking a knock against France.
Conor Murray is a superb scrumhalf, and he'll want to dictate once again as Ireland desperately seek a historic win to qualify for the semi-finals for the first time, having stumbled at the quarter-final stage on four previous occasions.
The Six Nations champs have discovered some all-important BMT over the past couple of years, recording impressive wins, but they’ll also be wary of an Argentinian side that has found some good form at this World Cup.
Argentina's involvement in the Rugby Championship has transformed them into a hardened, efficient outfit, and they looked mighty impressive in the first hour against the All Blacks in their opening pool game.
Sunday’s encounter provides them with an opportunity to repeat the heroics of 2007 when they progressed to the semi-final stage. Should they achieve this, it wouldn't be as much of a shock as an indication of just how far they’ve come since then.
Having mixed and matched in their selections for their final pool game against Namibia, 10 changes have been made for their quarter-final as coach Daniel Hourcade reverts to his strongest available side.
As the Boks will recall only too well, Argentina have a fearsome dangerman in winger Juan Imhoff, while the battle between former Sharks player Juan Martín Hernández and Henshaw will be one to watch.
Ireland have been extremely accurate at the breakdown throughout the tournament, but they do have two new flankers for this clash, while Argentina's Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe and captain Agustín Creevy will lead a physical forward effort from the Pumas.
Argentina also remain a powerful scrumming unit, and Marcos Ayerza is one of the most formidable loosehead props in the game.
Some enthralling mini-battles will rage across the park, but there is no doubt Ireland have the backline firepower to break the game open if their forwards lay a solid foundation up front.
HENSHAW’S STATS THAT MATTER
100% – Tackle success rate during the World Cup pool stage
90 – Metres in carries
18 – Carries over gainline
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Chris Henry, 6 Jordi Murphy, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Nathan White, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Luke Fitzgerald.
Argentina – 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchéz, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Facundo Isa, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images