Ireland end long wait against the Pumas
Joe Schmidt’s team claim first test win on Argentinian soil despite mixed performance
Darren Cave makes a break against Argentina. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Argentina 17 Ireland 29
Ireland duly achieved their anticipated first test win in Argentina, if not quite in the manner Joe Schmidt and the Irish management way have wanted. They made things difficult for themselves, notably in a particularly mixed bag of a first-half performance before pulling away and then conceding a late consolation try.
Ultimately, this match will be something of a footnote in history, and far less relevant than what most of Ireland’s main European rivals will be undertaking over these coming weeks.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, with a remodelled team showing eight changes, their setpieces were strong against an under-strength Pumas, and they had some good strike moves, but altogether less joy when forced to go through the phases.
Their defence was also quite ropey at times, and they had to fall back on their big players and some old reliable weapons, a lineout maul try from a take by Paul O’Connell in his 100th test, the Johnny Sexton wraparound and an Andrew Trimble intercept try, to force their way over the line.
The game’s biggest relevance was the performance of fringe players on trial.
Simon Zebo’s fan club will have enjoyed some of his touches on the ball and dangerous running, and he had one key moment in the air as well as being beaten another time, while there was a missed tackle near the end.
Others were more culpable, notably Luke Marshall, who has not had a strong end to the season, and Chris Henry was unusually beaten a couple of times. The starting debutant Robbie Diack was heavily involved, and underlined his qualities as a lineout option, while there were also debuts off the bench for the Connacht pair of Kieran Marmion and Rodney Ah You.
Elsewhere, Jack McGrath had a fine all-round game to cement his standing as Cian Healy’s understudy.
What Ireland have assuredly lost with the retirement of Brian O’Driscoll, they are gaining all the time in the increasing test match maturity of others, notably the halfbacks Conor Murray and Sexton. Murray did everything well, albeit to nitpick he might have moved the ball away quicker at times, but his kicking, carrying and tackling were all good and like him, Sexton ticked his usual quota of boxes and also came up with big plays. He really is invaluable to this team, no matter the occasion or the opposition.
The Argentinians had some clever, dangerous runners at halfback in Martín Landajo and Nicolás Sánchez, as well as their back three of nimble Joaquín Tuculet, Santiago Cordero and the foreceful Manuel Montero, while Benjamin Macome was impressive at number eight.
The atmosphere was not especially hostile come kick-off, and Ireland sought to keep the home crowd quiet with some keep ball off an Iain Henderson lineout take to go through a dozen or more phases, admittedly for no gain, and the ensuing kicks lead to a net loss of about 15 metres.
Ireland had more joy with a set move off a scrum when Darren Cave sliced through the Pumas’ midfield and off the recycle Diack possibly took the wrong option when stepping back inside off Murray’s sweet pass. In any event, it led to Sexton opening the scoring with a well struck angled penalty to, what for him, would be a familiar backdrop of booing and whistling.
McGrath took first blood at the Pumas’ first put-in when Ramiro Herrera was pinged for popping and Ireland launched a nice strike move off Diack’s ensuing take, Luke Marshall using decoy runners to find Sexton, and Jones’s grubber forced a five metre scrum.
However, having used Zebo as the first target, O’Connell was pinged for going off his feet and when Gabriel Ascárate led a break-out off the ensuing quick tap, Ireland were grateful that the centre’s chip bounced over the touchline on this patchwork pitch.
Sexton doubled the lead after helping to make a break by Marshall back against the grain, but then the cracks began to appear as first Ascárate broke through the Irish midfield and then Martín Landajo nearly worked a blindside try for Santiago Cordero off the close-in, leg pumping pressure.
Zebo was penalised for offside and Sánchez landed a fine penalty before then creating the first try, despite Argentina having lost Macome to the bin for illegally challenging Trimble in the air and forcing an awkward fall.
Joaquín Tuculet superbly claimed a high ball by Sexton above Zebo and from the recycle Sánchez stepped inside Marshall, fended off Henry and linked with the gargantuan Manuel Montero.
He had already beaten Trimble on the outside and this time the wing couldn’t haul him in before Montero rounded Sexton to score in the corner. It was a fine try from 14 men, but awful from the perspective of defence coach Les Kiss, and then Sánchez landed the conversion from the opposite touchline.
Helpfully, Zebo claimed Sexton’s restart and this led to a penalty into the corner. Falling back on their old reliable weapon, the rolling maul cranked up and O’Connell’s take for Henry allowed the flanker restore the lead before Sexton missed the difficult conversion.
Ireland might have scored again before the break, and were working an overlap when referee Glen Jackson permitted Ascárate to end the half with a one-handed knock-on that should have been penalised, thus leaving it 11-10 to Ireland at the break. They were in a battle to some degree of their own making.
Despite needing lengthy treatment as his teammates left the pitch for half-time, the Irish outhalf resumed for the restart and quickly scored a fine try. It emanated from Jordi Murphy’s big carry up the guts of the Argentine defence, the number eight bouncing to his feet to continue his yardage haul.
Ireland had to strike off the next phase, and off Murray’s quick service Sexton worked his trademark wraparound with Marshall to accelerate through a gap and fend off three would-be tackles to score, the only pity being that again he couldn’t convert from wide out.
Ireland required some staunch cover tackling and defending by Marshall to prevent a quick riposte after Sánchez’s delicate chip in behind Zebo, and from all of them to stem some furious Pumas pressure before good defending by McGrath forced a spillage. Even then, it needed a try-saving tackle by Zebo to force the ball from the hands of Jerónimo de la Fuente.
Murray followed that up with a fine blindside break from deep and although he was tackled into touch, when the Pumas laboriously worked the ball wide, Trimble read Landajo’s long skip pass and picked it off adroitly to run in an intercept try from about 40 metres out. It was the match-breaking score, Sexton converting to open up a 23-10 lead.
As the raft replacements came, leading to debuts for the Connacht pair of Marmion and Ah You, and Ireland’s grip tightened. Cave was denied what would have been a superbly worked and finished try when Tomás Cubelli’s tackle meant his foot brushed the touchline before a neat touchdown after Jamie Heaslip and Ian Madigan fed Zebo for the wing to make a stunning around-the-back offload out of the tackle.
Two Madigan penalties followed but these spirited Pumas had the final say after Heaslip had been driven back in the tackle, the initial demage being done when Cordero stepped inside Zebo before flanker Tomás de la Vega plunged over from close range. In truth, that probably ensured the scoreline was a fairer reflection of the 80 minutes.
Scoring sequence: 11 mins Sexton pen 0-3; 18 mins Sexton pen 0-6; 26 mins Sánchez 3-6; 31 mins Montero try, Sánchez con 10-6; 35 mins Henry try 10-11 (half-time 10-11); 43 mins Sexton try 10-16; 58 mins Trimble try, Sexton con 10-23; 68 mins Madigan pen 10-26; 71 mins Madigan pen 10-29; 79 mins de la Vega try, Iglesias con 17-29.
Argentina: Joaquín Tuculet (no club); Santiago Cordero (Regatas Bella Vista), Jerónimo de la Fuente (Duendes RC de Rosario), Gabriel Ascárate (Natacion y Gimnasia de Tucuman), Manuel Montero (Pucara de Buenos Aires); Nicolás Sánchez (Bègles-Bordeaux, FRA), Martín Landajo (Club Athetic de San Isidro, capt); Lucas Noguera Paz (Lince Tucuman), Matías Cortese (Liceo RC de Cuyo), Ramiro Herrera (Castres, FRA), Manuel Carizza (Stormers, RSA), Tomás Lavanini (Racing-Métro, FRA), Rodrigo Báez (Liceo RC de Cuyo), Tomás de la Vega (Club Universitario de Buenos Aires), Benjamín Macome (no club).
Replacements _ Matías Alemanno (La Tablada de Cordoba) for Carizza (half-time),
Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro (La Plata) for Herrera (57 mins), Julián Montoya (Club Newman) for Cortese (59 mins), Javier Ortega Desio (Estudiantes de Parana) for Báez, Tomás Cubelli (Belgrano Athletic) for Landajo (both 64 mins), Lucas González Amorosino (Oyonnax, FRA) for Cordero (65 mins), Santiago González Iglesias (Asociacion Alumni de Buenos Aires) for Sánchez (70 mins), Cordero for Tuculet (74 mins), Bruno Postiglioni (La Plata) for Paz (77 mins).
Ireland: Felix Jones (Shannon/Munster); Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster), Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Luke Marshall (Ballnyahinch/Ulster), Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster); Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro 92), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster), Robbie Diack (Malone/Ulster), Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster), Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster). Replacements _ Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster) for Marshall (57 mins), Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) for Murphy, Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) for Murray (both 59 mins), Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) for McGrath (61 mins), Ian Madigan (Blackrock/Leinster) for Sexton (64 mins), Damien Varley (Garryowen/Munster) for Best, Rodney Ah You (Buccaneers/Connacht) for Ross, Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) for O’Connell (all 68 mins).
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand).