Ireland coach Declan Kidney has admitted his side can’t afford to lose to Argentina on Saturday, November 24 after last weekend’s second half collapse and 16-12 defeat against South Africa.
The opening game of the autumn series saw Ireland lead 12-3 thanks to four kicks from Jonathon Sexton before the yellow card dismissal of captain Jamie Heaslip for 10 minutes allowed the Springboks to take control.
South Africa scored 10 points while Heaslip was off the pitch and never relinquished their control of the game on his return.
Ireland never scored again as a Ruan Pienaar try and eight points from Pat Lambie secured the victory.
After a fifth straight defeat, Ireland now have to beat Argentina to ensure they remain as second seeds for the World Cup draw.
Under-fire coach Kidney admitted, “We’re there again, aren’t we? It’ll be a World Cup qualifier in lots of ways against Argentina next week.
“That’s why the next 10 days will be so important in terms of selection for the Fiji game on Saturday.
“We must get the right balance between testing combinations, giving guys a run and freshening things up.”
As pressure mounts on the coach following five games without a win, Kidney insisted his team does know what it is doing.
He added, “The players definitely haven’t forgotten how to win, they’re still confident in what they’re trying to do It’s just a frustration. And I know they’re going to click.
“We have had ourselves in some situations like this in the past and but we just have to stick with it because we know it will turn.
“It’s a learning process, a tough one but like I’ve said before, I’ve been down this road and I know how it twists.
“Inside the in the dressing room after the game they were cracked because they knew they had let one get by us again, but they’re on the right road.”
Winger Tommy Bowe urged his teammates not panic after Ireland’s worst losing sequence for 14 years.
Bowe said, “There really isn’t a feeling that the team is going through a difficult period at the moment.
“There’s been a lot of confidence in the squad over the last couple of weeks, certainly with the work we’ve been doing in training.
“Everyone was upbeat and was looking forward to South Africa. I felt that we’d go after them and win - we’d targeted this match. Having lost it we’ll have to reassess that.
“It was a disappointing defeat because we had set ourselves up perfectly in the first half.”
Ireland never coped without the injured Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien against the South Africans.
Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip tried to shoulder the blame after his debut as leader ended in defeat.
Ireland were 12-3 up, thanks to four Jonathon Sexton penalties, when Heaslip was sin-binned for collapsing a driving maul in the 43rd minute of the game.
Heaslip said, “We started well in the first half and built up a good lead. We came out in the second half and as captain I should lead by example, but being yellow-carded wasn’t a good example.
“I put my hand up straight away when we came in afterwards. I’m a better servant on the field than off it.”
Heaslip admitted the second half South African dominance was a chastening experience.
He added, “We were a little bit frustrated we weren’t further ahead at half-time. They were quite clever about how they played the game when they had the ball. I don’t know how many opportunities we had.
“But we were still very confident and focused on what we had to do. We knew they’d have a purple patch, but felt we could keep our momentum.”
O’Connell and Ferris are out of the remaining autumn internationals against Fiji and Argentina with injuries. Scrum-half Eoin Reddan is doubtful for the Fiji game but Donnacha Ryan and Cian Healy should be fit to play.