Autumn internationals: Joe Schmidt exploring Ireland squad depth in autumn

Darren Cave and Paddy Wallace in training with Ulster
Darren Cave and Paddy Wallace won a combined 41 caps for Ireland
Ireland v Argentina
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Date: Saturday, 10 November Time: 18:30 GMT
Coverage: Radio commentary on BBC Radio Ulster; live text and match report on BBC Sport website.

Ireland and Ulster centre Darren Cave says the absence of Rob Kearney and Conor Murray from the Irish squad this week is "a blessing in disguise".

The two Grand Slam winners are not available for the autumn international against Argentina on Saturday.

Full-back Jordan Larmour will deputise for Kearney and Kieran Marmion starts at scrum-half against the Pumas.

"I think it's the biggest autumn series for Ireland for as long as I've been watching them," said Cave.

Ireland XV to play Argentina

Murray, who has been sidelined since the summer with a neck injury, has also taken part in training with the Ireland squad this month and the Irish coaching team have refused to rule the Munster star out of a surprise return to action against New Zealand on 17 November.

Marmion will start against Argentina on Saturday with Luke McGrath earning a place on the bench after his impressive performance against Italy last weekend but there is no place in the squad for Ulster scrum-half John Cooney.

"In many ways it's a blessing in disguise that Conor Murray isn't going to feature because I think that even if he was back fit in the next couple of days there's loads of implications even from a selection point of view," added Cave.

"He is, if not the best then the second best scrum-half in the world, so let's see the pecking order behind him and that's why it's particularly worrying to not see John Cooney [in the team to face Argentina].

"Next week's selection against New Zealand, provided Murray doesn't come in, will be interesting at scrum-half but fourth choice scrum-half, if Joe is happy with his one, two and three [is a tough place to be].

"Italy's second string is far worse than Ireland's second string so I don't know if last week's game was Test-match intensity, but I thought Luke McGrath was one of the few who stood out, particularly his kicking game, his support play and his defensive work."

Rob Kearney
Kearney sustained a shoulder injury in Leinster's Pro14 win over Benetton on 27 October

Kearney resumed training with the rest of the Ireland squad on Thursday but the Leinster full-back will focus on returning to full fitness ahead of the highly-anticipated match against the All Blacks, which will pit the two top-ranked sides in the world against each other less than a year from the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

"Again, Rob Kearney being out this week is not the end of the world, it's a good thing and it's just interesting now for Will Addison because if Andrew Conway is on the bench then Joe is obviously happy with Conway covering wing and full-back," added Cave, who believes Ireland can beat New Zealand this month in Dublin.

"Will is obviously a class centre and we haven't seen the best of him in green. I didn't think he got as much ball as he would have liked last weekend so I think we will see him again at 15 or 13 because he's a guy who is going to be perfect for a World Cup squad as well."

Competition for places is so strong that Schmidt has challenged British and Irish Lions second row Iain Henderson to "put his hand up" against the Pumas if he is to hold-off competition from the likes of Tadhg Beirne and Devin Toner for a place in the Ireland pack.

"It's a great thing from an Irish point of view that nobody is secure of their place and they know that every time they pull on that green jersey they have to perform otherwise there'll be somebody ready to take their spot," said former Ireland Grand Slam winner Paddy Wallace.

"Iain will be under pressure this week but at the same time he's a British Lion. It's great depth, Ireland are in such a good position and I agree with Darren they're set to be competitive against the All Blacks and really they can win that match."

Paddy Wallace and Darren Cave
Paddy Wallace and Darren Cave in action for Ireland during a 2011 World Cup warm-up match

Banana skin factor

Ireland have suffered three Rugby World Cup defeats at the hands of Argentina - most recently in the 2015 quarter-final in Cardiff - but they were comfortable winners against the Pumas when the two sides met in last year's autumn series.

"They're not the team of old, they're not the bogey team that Ireland have faced over the years," added Wallace.

"Argentina are getting better. They had an awful season last year where I'm not sure if they even won a game but in the Rugby Championship this year against the best in the Southern Hemisphere they turned over Australia and they turned over South Africa so they are improving.

"They have a lot of consistency in terms of who they can select every week due to the fact that they're involved in Super Rugby now."

Cave, who played both matches of a summer tour to Argentina in 2014 when Ireland won the series 2-0, agrees that Saturday's game will not result in a shock loss for the Six Nations champions.

"I know we've struggled against Argentina in the past at World Cups but I think Ireland are going to beat them comfortably," added the Ulster centre.

"Despite the hype around the New Zealand game, I don't see Joe letting his team take their eye off the ball - I don't see the banana skin factor coming into it.

"I just think this team, a lot of them didn't play last week, there's competition for places and they'll be ready for it and I think if Ireland are ready I don't see Argentina beating them."

Darren Cave and Paddy Wallace were speaking to Gavin Andrews on BBC Sport NI's 'The Rugby Social'

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