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.