Ireland huff and puff their way to victory over Argentina

Second-half tries from Simon Zebo and Ian Madigan seal 2-0 series win in Tucumán

Simon Zebo breaks clear of the Argentina defence to score Ireland’s first try during the second Test in Tucumán, Argentina. Photograph:  Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Simon Zebo breaks clear of the Argentina defence to score Ireland’s first try during the second Test in Tucumán, Argentina. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho


Argentina 17 Ireland 23: Ireland huffed and puffed in the clammy Tucumán air of north eastern Argentina to eventually complete a slightly laboured 2-0 Test series win over a charged and lively young Pumas team to complete a fine season. But the way they made heavy weather of getting over the winning line won’t have sent them off on their summer holidays with an extra spring in their step.

Ireland again had the better set-pieces and thus again had more possession and territory, but were comparatively structured and stodgy compared to the Pumas, whose footwork and eye for the unexpected provided the greater cutting edge.

Again, but even more so, Ireland struggled to convert prime attacking opportunities into tries or even points against a fast-up Argentinian defence which lived offside, but the Pumas were also a bit wild and loose in the tackle and at the breakdown, which ensured a steadier flow of penalties for Ireland. At times looking more bunched in the hot and clammy conditions, they needed them.

Eventually, the pulled through with the help of a well-rehearsed and executed Simon Zebo try off a lineout maul before a moment of individualism from Ian Madigan eventually ensured a two-score margin with just nine minutes remaining.

Joe Schmidt had expected a torrid start and wanted Ireland to contribute to that, though in the event it was a solid, strong start by the tourists. Argentina were pinged at the first scrum before the put-in for Sexton to go up the line and Ireland to launch Darren Cave up the middle and then go through the phases.

This culminated in Sexton opening the scoring with a 40-metre penalty for offside. Ireland were putting plenty of width on the ball, whether through the hands or through the air, and lacking any early penetration they had more of a threat with the latter as Zebo almost scored off a chip by Sexton but the Munster man put his foot in touch before dotting down.

Zebo linked with Rob Kearney on the opposite wing and from the recycle Matías Cortese was binned for a no-arms chop tackle on David Kilcoyne for Sexton to double the lead. Scrumhalf and captain Martín Landajo took on the throwing responsibilities but was crooked with what will presumably be his one and only lineout throw.

However, much like the first Test, the Pumas ability to come up with something unexpected against Ireland’s more structured approach unhinged the tourists. Outhalf Nicolás Sánchez was again the instigator with a deft grubber which turned the Irish midfield and found ample space in front of Kearney. Fergus McFadden slid on the ball but failed to hold it, Sánchez re-gathered and passed to Jerónimo de la Fuente, who was taken out early by Andrew Trimble.

After lengthy recourse to the TMO (it would have been quicker if he had run to the referee pitchside) Trimble was sinbinned and Sánchez landed the penalty. Worse followed for Ireland after Sexton located Zebo with a cross kick and his chip ahead forced a five-metre scrum. Opting for another scrum from a penalty, Ireland met stiffer resistance from the young Pumas pack and Jamie Heaslip’s pass inside to Chris Henry was forward for what would prove a potential 14-point turnover.

When the Pumas again locked the scrum on their own put-in, Manuel Montero used a blindside overlap to leave Rhys Ruddock for dead from virtually his own line and dummy Cave before finding Lucas González Amorosino with a superb flat, if slightly forward, pass. Although he was brilliantly chased down by Zebo, Argentina went wide left from the recycle for fullback Joaquín Tuculet to dummy inside Henry and round the posts, Sánchez converting.

Heaslip and Devin Toner executed a choke tackle for a turnover and Kearney made a strong, potent break but Sexton’s cross chip, possibly half blocked, was easily picked off by Amorosino. Sexton’s ensuring chip ahead was also over-cooked as the outhalf’s radar went a little off kilter. From the ensuing broken play the elusive Tuculet danced through again before Zebo stood strong in the tackle against Amoriso for the scrambling defence to force a spillage. But Ireland looked stretched again and gasping for air.

Once more they turned down a three-pointer for the lead with the last play of the half and again regretted it, as the maul was eventually held up and Ruddock spilled Eoin Reddan’s pass for the Pumas to hack up field to force Kearney to prevent further embarrassment.

Schmidt had wanted a strong spine but in the event it was his key decision makers in that spine who had been as culpable as anyone when the coach regrouped them at half-time.

The second-half resumed with a rare error by Sánchez as he knocked on and when Ramiro Herrera went over the top but, surprisingly, Sexton steered the penalty wide. Iain Henderson, on for Toner at half-time, made a good carry off Sexton’s inside pass but it was too good and he was pinged for holding on.

For the third time Zebo stood tall in defence to save a try when stopping Tomás de la Vega in his tracks when the flanker broke off a lineout. Sexton, Cave and Paul O’Connell executed a choke tackle to relieve the pressure and when the outhalf t cross kicked with precision for Trimble as the Pumas kept three back, the Ulster winger chipped Montero and gathered only for Tuculet to do enough to bring him down.

Even so, Ireland stayed upfield and when going up the line again were rewarded from another drive when Reddan peeled infield and passed inside for Zebo to time his ghosted run off the blindside wing perfectly and, with the help of his goosestep, slice through to score under the posts. Sexton converted a try that looked to have been hatched in the interval.

Ireland might have pulled clear when Ruddock made a strong carry and off-loaded to Cave, but the Ulster centre was hauled down just short by Amorosino and penalised for holding on. It was a measure of Ireland’s difficulties and the angst amongst the coaching staff that Jack McGrath was brought on to replace Kilcoyne rather than the original intention for him to cover tighthead as the tourists made first use of their bench.

Their mood wouldn’t have been helped by an increase in the error count, as an unusually off colour Heaslip had the ball ripped off him by Sánchez, before Sexton was forced to go off and be replaced by Ian Madigan after suffering a knee in the head.

After Jordi Murphy, on for Henry, failed to gather a fifth lost Pumas lineout, Ireland were grateful for the McGrath-infused pace to force a relieving scrum against the head. Madigan surprisingly missed the chance to go two scores clear with a 40-metre penalty, and soon after O’Connell turned a three-pointer for a third time when going to the corner.

The Pumas defence through multiple phases galvanised the home crowd but Madigan, having been denied once, used his strength and footwork to slip through two tackles and then step Tomás Cubelli to underline his uncanny eye for the try line by scoring under the posts and converting.

With that Ireland blew their biggest collective breath of the day and both James Cronin and Noel Reid were afforded debut caps, but as was the case a week ago, a proud late rally by the Pumas was rewarded when Amorosino stepped Kieran Marmion for a try, Santiago Iglesias converting with the last kick of the game.

Scoring sequence: 5 mins Sexton pen; 10 mins Sexton pen 0-6; 17 mins Sánchez pen 3-6; 25 mins Tuculet try, Sánchez con 10-6; 32 mins Sexton pen 10-9; (half-time 10-9); 51 mins Zebo try, Sexton con 10-16; 72 mins Madigan try and con 10-23; 80 mins Amoriso try, Iglesias con 17-23.

ARGENTINA: Joaquín Tuculet; Lucas González Amorosino, 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, Antonio Ahualli.

Replacements: Santiago Iglesias Valdez for Ahualli (12-19 mins temp) and for Cortese (27 mins), Matías Orlando (Huirapuca) for Tuculet (49-57 mins), Matías Díaz for Herrera (53 mins), Javier Ortega Desio for Ahualli de Chazal (61 mins), Santiago González Iglesias for Ascárate (both 61 mins), Matías Alemanno (La Tablada de Cordoba) for Lavanini (71 mins). Subs not used: Bruno Postiglioni, Tomás Cubelli. Yellow card: Cortese (9-19 mins).

IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Andrew Trimble, Fergus McFadden, Darren Cave, Simon Zebo; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Dave Kilcoyne, Rory Best, Mike Ross; Devin Toner, Paul O’Connell, Rhys Ruddock, Chris Henry, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: Iain Henderson for Toner (half-time), Jack McGrath for Kilcoyne (58 mins), Jordi Murphy for Henry (64 mins), Ian Madigan for Sexton (65 mins), James Cronin for Ross, Noel Reid for Cave (both 74 mins), Rob Herring for Ruddock, K Marmion for Reddan (both 78 mins). Yellow card: Trimble (15-25 mins).

Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)

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