Ireland sent crashing out of Rugby World Cup by Argentina
Quarter-finals yet again prove to be the undoing of Joe Schmidt’s team
Same as it ever was. Make that six quarter-final defeats out of six. Losing a third of the team was too much and, frankly, these Pumas were too much as well. Ahead in the third minute through the first of an early double whammy of tries, Argentina led all the way, even withstanding a Luke Fitzgerald-inspired comeback, to regroup and pull away to deservedly win with something to spare.
Thus, this relatively young but rapidly improving and emerging Pumas team underlined the gulf between the two hemispheres as much as the All Blacks had done the night before against a pathetic France. This, after all, was a superbly coached and brave Irish side who are the reigning back-to-back Six Nations champions.
Ireland were too narrow in defence and attacking, their up-and-out defending leaving them soft on the outside channels to the Pumas superb depth and width. There was some fine poaching by Rory Best, Chris Henry and Jordi Murphy, but Argentina also cleared out, and counter-rucked, more efficiently.
They retain their old fearsome scrum, but have added so much more. There’s the strength and athleticism of their 20 and 22-year-old locks Guido Petti and Tomas Lavanini - akin to two Iain Hendersons - and the excellent flanker Pablo Matera, which helped them win the collisions, while Leonardo Senatore defends and runs like Kieran Read in the outside channels.
Indeed, the Pumas forwards were altogether more accurate and skilful in linking with their free-running backs than Ireland - a key difference - and none more so than the warrior Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. Yet excellent as he was, he wasn’t a stand-out performer.
Operating behind two livewire scrum-halves, Nicolas Sanchez pulled the strings and ensured the Pumas played far more on the gain line than Ireland did, dancing at first tacklers, distributing silkily and, as ever, kicking virtually everything. The pace, footwork and finishing of the roving Juan Imhoff, Joaquin Tuculet and Santiago Cordero are as good as anything in the tournament.
Ireland started poorly, their defence being badly exposed - in part due to the greater speed of the Pumas’ ruck ball. For Ireland to make a game of it from 17-0 down, coming to within one long-range penalty of levelling things up at 23-all, was an achievement. There were many fine performances, not least the wonderful Robbie Henshaw, who strained every sinew and relished ever contact, Fitzgerald and Conor Murray.
Ireland 20 Argentina 43 - Highlights
They all tried their damndest, but their scrum was under pressure, and Ireland didn’t help themselves by playing too much behind the gain line, with some bad decisions and poor execution.
There’s a new-found strut to these Pumas. Daniel Hourcade has instilled this team with confidence to play wide, attacking rugby. After Henderson had been penalised for not releasing and then Tuculet beat Madigan to a high ball in the air, the Pumas quickly settled into their easy rhythm, going through the phases.
Martin Landajo’s dive pass, and a long pass by Fernandez Lobbe led to Sanchez, second last receiver, stepping and drawing a second defender for centre Matias Moroni, who was always likely to add more to their attacking game than Marcello Bosch, to finish speedily like the sometime winger he is.
Sanchez converted effortlessly and did again off the post after a slick, high tempo move from off the top line-out ball (they don’t even maul that much anymore). Again Argentina went through the phases with Landajo and Juan Martin Hernandez for Sanchez to transfer quickly and Cordero kicked ahead for Imhoff to gather and touchdown before the dead ball line in one movement.
Sanchez tagged on two penalties before Madigan opened Ireland’s account while Pumas’ tight-head Ramiro Herrera was in the bin. Keith Earls gathered and kicked long, and a typically strong piece of work in open play by Murray, gathering a chip and offloading, led to him and Madigan moving it wide for Henshaw to take out two players and release Fitzgerald for a fine 45 metre finish inside Tuculet.
To actually reach the interval at 20-10 was in some respects more of a result for Ireland than Argentina. As if to underline the point, it was Ireland’s turn to strike early in the second-half.
Although Devin Toner failed to gather the kick-off, Heaslip’s crunching tackle on Landajo enabled Chris Henry to win a turnover penalty. A fine strike move saw Murray miss Heaslip for Henshaw to truck it up from Jordi Murphy’s take. When Fitzgerald put his head down to go through Senatore and Agustin Creevy, the sub winger offloaded for the supporting Murphy to score.
Ireland came knocking in the pivotal phase of the match, and quicker hands by Henshaw might have yielded an overlap but he was crunched by Senatore and the Pumas flooded the breakdown for a turnover. After Cordero and Imhoff opened Ireland up out wide again, Sanchez made it 23-17, before Madigan landed a penalty and was just wide from long range.
For Ireland, that was pretty much it. Sanchez milked a penalty when ducking into Toner’s flailing arm to make it 26-20, and then used a free play brilliantly with more pacey passing and depth. Jeronimo de la Fuente, seamlessly introduced, linked with Hernandez for Tuculet to straighten through and take Earls’ for a stunning, one-handed finish in the corner.
Then Fernandez Lobbe dummied Toner and offloaded one-handed inside for Imhoff to beat Rob Kearney and elude Dave Kearney for a joyous, game-sealing finish. Sanchez converted and landed a penalty to complete the scoring.
There was one last bout of pressure, to the accompanying backdrop of a last rendition of The Fields. Defiant to the end, but well beaten, albeit by a very good side. The Argentinian subs ran on to join in the celebrations. Ireland trooped off disconsolately, briefly acknowledging the Green Army.
Within minutes, the ground and the party belonged to the noisy 10,000 or so Argentinians.
Scoring sequence: 3 mins Moroni try, Sanchez con 0-7; 10 mins Imhoff try, Sanchez con 0-14; 13 mins Sanchez pen 0-17; 20 mins Madigan en 3-17; 22 mins Sanchez pen 3-20; 26 mins Fitzgerald try, Madigan con 10-20; (half-time 10-20); 44 mins Murphy try, Madigan con 17-20; 51 mins Sanchez pen 17-23; 53 mins Madigan pen 20-23; 64 mins Sanchez pen 20-26; 69 mins Tuculet try, Sanchez con 20-33; 73 mins Imhoff try, Sanchez con 20-40; 77 mins Sanchez pen 20-43.
Ireland: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Tommy Bowe (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Connacht), Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster); Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster), Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) (capt). Replacements: Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College/Leinster) for Bowe (13 mins), Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) for Healy, Nathan White (Connacht) for Ross (both 52 mins), Richardt Strauss (Old Wesley/Leinster) for Best (68 mins), Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster) for Henderson, Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) for Murphy, Eoin Reddan (Old Crescent/Leinster) for Murray (all 70 mins). Not used: Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster)
Argentina: Joaquin Tuculet (UAR); Santiago Cordero (UAR), Matias Moroni (UAR), Juan Martin Hernandez (UAR), Juan Imhoff (Racing 92); Nicolas Sanchez (UAR), Martin Landajo (UAR); Marcos Ayerza (Leicester Tigers), Agustin Creevy (UAR) (capt), Ramiro Herrera (UAR), Guido Petti (UAR), Tomas Lavanini (UAR), Pablo Matera (UAR), Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (Toulon), Leonardo Senatore (Unattached). Replacements: Facundo Isa (UAR) for Senatore (52 mins), Tomas Cubelli (UAR) for Landajo (53 mins), Julian Montoya (UAR) for Creevy (56 mins), Matias Alemanno (UAR) for Pagadizaval (60 mins), Lucas Noguera (UAR) for Ayerza, Jeronimo de la Fuente (UAR) for Moroni (both 68 mins), Juan Pablo Orlandi (Newcastle Falcons) for Herrera (72 mins). Not used: Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino (Unattached). Sinbinned: Herrera (17-27 mins).
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France).