Sexton the perfect 10 as Ireland unleash the beast on the Pumas
Ireland 46 Argentina 24By rights, Craig Gilroy should probably have passed inside to Jonny Sexton, but no-one was complaining, least of all Sexton. Team, management and crowd alike couldn’t have scripted a more uplifting first score than an 11th minute try by the debutant and as Gilroy was about to throw the ball into the air after using his fiendish side step to beat three Argentinians in turn, he was clattered in the back by a diving Sexton, whereupon Chris Henry and Conor Murray piled in on top of him before each and every one of his team-mates embraced him or slapped him on the head.
The elusive and pacey Ulster winger took more punishment in those moments than in the rest of the match.
It had echoes of Jamie Heaslip’s try which launched Ireland’s win against France and ensuing Grand Slam in 2009. It was as if, in one bound, Ireland were free. Within four minutes they certainly were, with Gilroy first to pounce on Sexton in celebration of the outhalf’s first try and so it continued, the celebrations augmenting the constant vibes of a happy camp this past month.
To put this win in some kind of context, Ireland scored seven tries against front-line opposition for the first time since beating Italy 61-6 in an eight-try World Cup warm-up rout at Thomond Park over nine years ago. It also far eclipsed the 29-9 win over the Pumas two years ago here and the four tries scored in a 32-24 World Cup win against them in 1999.
Nothing rattled them, not even Sexton sending the game’s kick-off into touch on the full and a decidedly harsh penalty against Peter O’Mahony for what most referees would have deemed a legitimate steal, from which Nicolas Sanchez hit the post.
Thereafter, from about the fifth to 75th minutes, Ireland bossed it. Operating off superior set-pieces, a rumbling maul and quicker ball, the tempo and variety with which Ireland played had Argentina in a constant state of flux as they defended a green blur. The Pumas have seldom been made to look so defensively hapless.
Against a defence that pushed up on the outside, homework was clearly done, as Ireland persistently used inside passes, went back against the grain or attacked the gain line, if not finding space then out of position defenders. Ireland also used chips in behind very effectively, which yielded two tries for Bowe and almost did so for Keith Earls and Gilroy as well.
Controlling it all, varying their game brilliantly and doing pretty much everything at a high tempo, the partnership between Conor Murray and Sexton has never looked so telepathic. Moving the ball away quickly, probing the blind side and finding his outhalf perfectly whenever he switched the point of attack, the high point of Murray’s excellent game was probably the deft under-arm reverse pass from which Sexton put Simon Zebo over for his first Test try with a flat, double skip pass.