Some rustiness inevitable but Ireland have plenty of room for improvement
Despite victory, Paul O’Connell not overly impressed by visitors’ performance
Paul O’Connell and members of the Ireland squad undergo their pool recovey session at the Hotel Turismo Corrientes in Argentina. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Ireland 29 (Tries: Henry, Sexton, Trimble. Pens: Sexton 2, Madigan 2. Cons: Sexton 1) Argentina 17 (Tries Montero, de la Vega.Pens Sánchez 1. Cons Sánchez 2)
The occasion verged more on quaint than hostile, and even the Estadio Centenario pitch in Resistencia held up better than expected as the forecast rains never materialised. Admittedly this meant for warm, clammy conditions against a typically motivated and bruising Pumas side. The impact of the hits could be heard from the sidelines and by the end Ireland knew they had been in a game.
After his 100th Test, including seven for the Lions, Paul O’Connell noted that even the super-fit Felix Jones was sucking diesel before the finish.
“When you see the likes of Felix Jones struggling with five minutes to go from a fitness point of view- he is one of the fittest guys I’ve ever played with – it just shows how physical a game it was and how draining it was fitness-wise. So for a few of the young guys and a few of the guys who got their first cap and who maybe aren’t regulars in the side it is good to come down to a place like this and get a real tough test and come through it.”
Admittedly, O’Connell’s reflections came after he also noted: “You would love to have done similar to what England have done in New Zealand and followed the Six Nations up with a really big performance which they seem to have done down there. We didn’t do that but at the same time it was a really tough game.”
Nagging knowledgeThe Irish captain was evidently disappointed by aspects of the performance, but also the nagging knowledge that England took a bigger step forward over the weekend in altogether more testing circumstances.
“We probably were expecting their physicality, we probably didn’t deal with it as good as we would like to have,” admitted O’Connell. “I think the result was good, the performance was disappointing. I think we started quite well and I suppose left them back into the game. It was a real slog throughout, a real tough physical game.”
O’Connell agreed in large measure with Joe Schmidt’s summation of the game and Ireland’s performance. The set-piece was strong, with Robbie Diack’s agility and hands providing a crisp supply of attacking ball from the tail of the line from which Ireland launched some good starter plays.
However, once they began going through the phases they had less joy, and didn’t convert telling breaks by Darren Cave and Luke Marshall into tries before defensive frailties saw them fall behind. That said, Conor Murray was adamant that he had scored following Cave’s searing early break and O’Connell was imploring Glen Jackson to check the TMO when instead he penalised the skipper for going off his feet and Argentina countered with a quick tap off their own line.
“That kind of thing is probably something we’ve spoken about every day since we came together, and that was frustrating,” said O’Connell.
“I’m disappointed and Les will be disappointed as well, with the missed tackles. I think they’ve a lot of very talented footballers with excellent footwork, and size as well. We missed tackles, tackles that I think we should have made, and it conceded momentum to Argentina. . .We need to defend better if we’re going to put in a better performance against them next week.”
“For as long as I am playing against Argentina that’s what they do against teams. It was something we had spoken about, we tried to get ready, prepared to defend, but unfortunately we didn’t and that is the most unfortunate aspect of the display.”
With the core of the Leinster contingent who had helped their province retain their Pro12 crown only a week before, and the resulting eight changes, this encounter was always likely to have more relevance in the context of individual performances. Viewed in that light it was a significant encounter, not least for the coaches, and invariably there were always going to be winners and losers.
Diack was highly involved, and as Schmidt noted Iain Henderson continues to grow, while the coach also noted the work-rate of Iain Henderson and Jordi Murphy, neither of whom will perhaps feel they made quite the impact they would have liked.
As an aside it would have encouraged the coaching staff no end to witness such a fine all-round performance by Jack McGrath, who augmented his strong scrummaging with an effective, skilful and mobile performance in the loose.
With Conor Murray, who should have been awarded a try, Johnny Sexton, who scored his eighth try in 44Tests with a trademark wraparound in tandem with Luke Marshall, remained the key hub of the team.
Marshall showed up well in attack at times, and really has talent for this position, but there was one poor pass to Simon Zebo and a number of missed one-on-one tackles by the Ulster centre before he was hauled off prior to the hour mark. Marshall now looks set to miss out on the second Test, and will possibly have the most regrets about last Saturday.
Good gameOutside him, Darren Cave had a good game and deserves another crack at the number 13 jersey, and then there was Simon Zebo. Whereas Schmidt exonerated Cave and Andrew Trimble, whose game-clinching intercept try was his fourth in six successive games for Ireland, not so Zebo.
The Munster winger did many things well, not least his winning of Sexton’s restart in the build-up to Chris Henry’s try off a maul, and provided the O’Driscoll Moment of the day from Ian Madigan’s typically sharp flat pass with a stunning round-the-corner offload out of a double tackle to find Cave for what would have been a brilliant try but for the centre brushing the touchline.
Yet Zebo also missed a couple of tackles and one had the distinct impression he didn’t show enough work-rate and defensive strength for Schmidt’s liking. Behind him, Jones had a strong, secure game and did virtually nothing wrong.
In addition to some clever, dangerous runners at half-back in Martin Landajo and Nicolás Sánchez, the Pumas back three Joaquán Tuculet, Santiago Cordero and the forceful Manuel Montero, made it a particularly searching test for the Irish outside backs.
All in all, a degree of rustiness was inevitable given 11of this starting XV hadn’t played in either three or four weeks, and Ireland will assuredly improve for the run-out. 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; Santiago Cordero, Jerónimo de la Fuente, Gabriel Ascárate, Manuel Montero; Nicolás Sánchez, Martín Landajo (capt); Lucas Noguera Paz , Matías Cortese, Ramiro Herrera, Manuel Carizza, Tomás Lavanini, Rodrigo Báez, Tomás de la Vega, Benjamín Macome. Replacements: Matías Alemanno for Carizza (half-time), Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro for Herrera (57 mins), Julián Montoya for Cortese (59 mins), Javier Ortega Desio for Báez, Tomás Cubelli for Landajo (both 64 mins), Lucas González Amorosino for Cordero (65 mins), Santiago González Iglesias for Sánchez (70 mins), Cordero for Tuculet (74 mins), Bruno Postiglioni for Paz (77 mins). IRELAND: Felix Jones (Munster); Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Darren Cave (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).