All over for a weary Irish squad

 

Ireland 15 Argentina 30: It's all over bar the finger-pointing.  Ireland have exited the World Cup in the pool stages for the first time, their fate confirmed by another below par performance against the group winners Argentina whose display in the Parc des Princes bore all the hallmarks of a team growing in confidence and readying itself for an assault on the top tier of world rugby.

Ireland were passionate and dogged as they chased the bonus point win, but with another error-strewn effort they never stood a chance of putting four past the Pumas, who threw themselves into tackles, forced mistakes and, at times, played some scintillating rugby, thanks largely to Leinster outhalf Felipe Contepomi and the mercurial Juan Martin Hernandez, whose display at number 10 was worthy of an All Black shirt.

Los Pumas now face a quarter-final against Scotland and are hot favourites to make it to the semi-finals thanks to today's performance.  Their opening day win over France also means that the hosts have been thrown into a Cardiff quarter-final with New Zealand.

Ireland, for whom captain Brian O'Driscoll and fullback Geordan Murphy touched down, must return home and analyse where it went wrong for a squad that was billed as one of the most talented ever to don the green jersey, not just by the media and the public, but by themselves and their coaching staff.

The damage, of course, was done before today and had a bonus point been secured against Georgia the win rather than the cricket score needed would have been easier to have planned for and to achieve.

The performance from Ireland was better than the previous three, but that says little considering the standards set. The attitude appeared spot-on from the first whistle and their were early forays into Argentinean territory.  They yielded nothing, however, given Ireland's inability to support their runners and hold on to the ball in crucial areas.

Ronan O'Gara, heralded by some as the second best outhalf in the world, again fell drastically short of the level required to compete on this stage.  In contrast, his opposite number was outstanding, pinning Ireland back with brilliantly placed kicks and forcing them to attack from deep.  His three expertly taken drop-goals kept the scoreboard ticking over, while his up and unders were a constant threat given their height and distance.

Defensively, he and his fullback Ignacio Corleto were flawless under Ireland's highball, though it was rarely accurate from either O'Gara or Murphy, while Contepomi kicked 11 points from three penalties and a conversion to become the tournament's top scorer with 53 points, one more than South Africa's Percy Montgomery.

When in Ireland's half their mix of forward power and precision and fine running in the backs always spelt danger and after early Irish pressure it was the Pumas who touched down first. A last-ditch sprint by Denis Hickie foiled Contepomi as he attempted get on the end of his own up-and-under, but seconds later Lucas Borges put the first points on the board.

From a ruck on the right, the ever alert Pumas captain Augustin Pichot chose the blindside and passed to the small but tenacious wing who barged his way past two men to touch down.

O'Gara got Ireland's first points with a penalty midway through the half but it was immediately cancelled out by the first of Hernandez's drop goals.

Lucas Borges, with his third of the tournament, and Ireland then became the first team to score a try against Argentina with O'Driscoll running on to O'Gara's flat pass and through a gap in the centre of the defence. The latter's conversion gave them a 10-8 lead but the Pumas were cool under pressure again.

Hernandez restored their lead with another brilliant drop before Argentina took a 18-10 halftime lead with a superb try from Horacio Agulla. Hernandez started the move in the Pumas' half with an up-and-under, gathering it and then offloading brilliantly to Rodrigo Roncero when he was tackled.

The ball then went to Contepomi and from the ruck after the centre was tackled Pichot went left where the two wings combined and amateur Agulla touched down in the corner. Contepomi converted from the touchline.

Ireland emerged lively in the second half, but another Contepomi penalty put the Pumas further ahead. 

There was a glimmer of hope when Murphy hit back with a fine try. From a lineout on the left, the ball was fed quickly down the line and the Argentine cover was caught a man short, before Murphy went over to bring Ireland within six points.  O'Gara, however, missed the conversion.

Ireland struggled to get the ball back after that, with 10 turnovers at ruck and maul (to Ireland's two) for Argentina, telling the story.

Contepomi, with the help of Irish mistakes and a lack of discipline, then proceeded to open the points gap again with two more penalties before Hernandez put the icing on the cake with a final drop goal from his weaker left foot.

O'Sullivan and his charges have questions to answer after this campaign, but the coach was adamant after the game that he would not be considering his own position having agreed a four year contract prior to the tournament.