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Pivotal boost for Ireland

Tue, 20 Nov 2012 16:20
Jonathan-sexton-ireland-630 Seano_brienpresser Mikemccarthy
Victory over the Pumas will confirm Ireland's top eight ranking
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Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton has been declared fit for what manager Michael Kearney considers a ‘must-win’ match against Argentina on Saturday.

Sexton withdrew from last weekend’s non-cap international against Fiji after sustaining an injury in the warm-up but Kearney confirmed he will be ready to front Ireland in Dublin.

"At a stretch, Jonathan could have stayed in the squad on Saturday but it was felt it wasn't prudent and we withdrew him solely as a precaution," Kearney said.

"It's not even a minor concern to be honest. He received treatment over the weekend and even today there was considerable easing.

"The scan was nothing more than a precaution and it was determined there was no damage. Jonathan was back jogging and will train fully on Thursday and will be absolutely fine for Saturday."

Loose forward Sean O’Brien is back in training after undergoing hip surgery and his progress will be monitored.     

Kearney said the players will forget about the various rankings permutations and concentrate on what they can control on the pitch on Saturday - beating Argentina in their final Test of the year.

Declan Kidney's men head into the final week of November internationals knowing that victory over the Pumas will confirm their top eight ranking for the 2015 Rugby World Cup pool allocation draw.

They are currently seventh in the IRB World Rankings, putting them in the second band of seeds - teams ranked fifth to eighth - for the draw that takes place in London on Monday, December 3.

Only 1.1 rating points separate the sides ranked sixth to ninth currently, so there are number of scenarios that could play out based on this weekend's results.

On the same day that Ireland host the sixth-ranked Argentinians in Dublin, reigning Rugby World Cup champions New Zealand visit Wales, who have slipped to eighth, while in-form Samoa - now in ninth - face a trip to France.

Whatever happens in Cardiff and Paris, a win of any kind for Ireland will ensure they leapfrog above Argentina come the publication of the latest rankings on Monday.

Emphasising the single-minded approach of the squad this week, Kearney said: "The bottom line is we need to win and the benefit of that is we'd move up to sixth in the rankings.

"We are basically just concentrating on the performance and that's our focus. The rankings, of course, are hugely important in terms of the World Cup, but what is in our control is winning.

"The approach will be very similar to teams playing in the European Cup where they target the win and if a bonus point is in the offing after that, then you take it.

"We won't be chasing anything, we will be seeking to perform to the best of our ability and win the game."
Ireland currently sit on 79.04 rating points with Argentina on 79.89, closely followed by the eighth-ranked Welsh (78.95) and Samoa (78.79) in ninth.

The rankings are calculated on a points exchange system between the two teams in an individual fixture. There are increased rewards for sides winning by 15 points or more, with greater weight also given to away victories.

Ireland faced a similar win or bust encounter with Argentina four years ago in the early months of Kidney's first season in charge.

Back then, a Tommy Bowe try and 12 points from Ronan O'Gara's boot saw them secure a crucial 17-3 triumph over the Pumas at Croke Park, which rubberstamped their eighth-place ranking for the 2011 Rugby World Cup draw.

Such has been the rate of injuries of late, allied to some notable retirements, that the current squad includes only four starters from that November 2008 match - Bowe, O'Gara, Donncha O'Callaghan and current captain Jamie Heaslip.

Donnacha Ryan was also sprung from the bench to win his first cap that afternoon, while Eoin Reddan and Keith Earls were unused replacements.

Kearney pointed to the considerable influx of new players in the past year when revealing: "In the 12 months or so since the World Cup, there are 17 new faces in our squad of 30 or 32 compared to what we had then.

"That's pretty massive and it's not all down to transition. There have been serious injuries, retirements and some selection calls.

"You could describe it as transition but I don't think the coaching staff could ask for any more than what they have got in the last three weeks.

"The new guys who have come in have brought in their own professionalism which is right up there with that of the guys who have been there for many years."

Of the players training at Carton House at present, nine have made their Test debuts since August 2011 - including Mike McCarthy, the man of the match against South Africa, and 13-times capped scrumhalf Conor Murray.

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