The Gain Line: Ireland chase down Pumas
16:01, 24 Nov 2012
It was a victory that was as unexpected as it was heartening and the pressure has been lifted off Declan Kidney for now...
Ireland and Argentina met again to contest the Admiral William Brown Cup — named for an Argentinean national hero who emigrated from Mayo in the 18th century — and Declan Kidney’s side obliterated the form book to record an outstanding win full of vigour, dash and inventiveness.
It has to be said, however, that this wasn’t a performance one would expect from Argentina were it a World Cup game. Still, if Kidney had his critics following an awful recent run, then he and his team must be complimented for as complete a performance as we’ve seen since the 24-8 win over England in 2011.
Craig Gilroy was outstanding and merits comparison with Denis Hickie and Simon Geoghegan based on this performance. Not to load the pressure on him or anything of the sort.
Ten minutes before kick-off, the fireworks exploded across the Lansdowne Road pitch shooting high into the chilly Dublin sky as the punters slowly filed into the ground. It was expected to be as combustible on the pitch but, really, that scenario never materialised.
Ireland made a terrible start, though, with Jonathan Sexton kicking straight to touch from the off, giving the Pumas a scrum and the chance to drive into Ireland territory and win the first kickable penalty of the afternoon.
Nicolas Sanchez’ effort hit the post and after Ireland scrambled to regain possession Conor Murray set the early tone, firing out snappy passes to put his side on the front foot.
Mike McCarthy and Chris Henry tested Argentina’s fringe defence only for Sexton to fire out an awkward pass when there was an opportunity out wide.
And Ulster’s Gilroy was seeing plenty of ball, making hard yards down the left wing before Ireland were awarded another penalty on the halfway line.
The home side’s interplay was explosive at this point and Sexton again found touch on the 22’. From that lineout Gilroy ran a superb inside line, Sexton popped off a blind pass, and the winger brilliantly sidestepped Gonzalo Camacho to touch down and put Ireland in control.
After Sanchez reduced the margin to four following a crossing offence, Gilroy, again, ran an inside line, creating space for Sexton to finish under pressures from a couple of Argentinean defenders.
Although Ireland were making line breaks absent from their game recently, the away side’s defence was unusually flaky. Still, the Sexton/Gilroy combination was rattling their opponents.
Simon Zebo then put through a clever grubber — an element of variety that has been needed, especially following the lack of creative zeal against South Africa two weeks ago — for Keith Earls to chase and hound an opponent into touch.
From the lineout five metres out, Richardt Strauss popped out the back of a pre-planned move to dive over in the corner. The try was awarded after a brief consultation with the video referee and Ireland were 19-6 up after 23 minutes.
So much for the pre-match doom and gloom.
In truth, Argentina looked tired. Ten of their players started all three winter tests. Ireland had the dual benefit of a morale-boosting win in Limerick while being able to rest a raft of first-team players.
We’ve said here before that Ireland, for whatever reason, have in the last two years been unwilling or unable to vary their play. The intent was evident in the 14th meeting between the sides that mixing it up was key to upsetting the always tactically astute Argentineans.
Another Sanchez penalty after some desperate Irish defending preceded a Garryowen from Sexton that was taken at full-speed by Tommy Bowe. Ireland continued the phases down the left and after Zebo and Gilroy combined, the former dashed over in the corner to make it 24-9. The Irish back three were simply ripping Argentina apart.
Not that they were ready to give up. Some strong counter-rucking gave them the chance to reduce the margin to 12 but Sanchez was again off target when he would have been expected to score.
He atoned for that miss just after the break as his side tore into it around the fringes following what must have been a fairly industrial dusting down from Santiago Phelan.
Ireland re-exerted their authority in the one area where they have often been most exposed against one of the best practitioners of the art in world rugby, forcing their opponents to concede a penalty in the scrum. Sexton knocked the kick over from in front of the posts.
The out-half then combined with Gilroy again, the Ulster winger ravenous off the wing, before Sexton again demonstrated Ireland’s new found abandon with a pop kick that Bowe chased and touched down in the corner. The conversion hit the post but, whatever, this was rugby utopia.
A couple of minutes later and Sexton bashed his way over on the other side. Game over, and if Argentina weren’t already thinking of flights out of Dublin they surely were at this stage.
A Mexican wave swept around the ground as Argentina attempted to crash over the Ireland line following a series of phases five metres out. Bowe was agonisingly close to intercepting before Sexton scraped himself off the ground from the bottom of a ruck. Penalty Ireland and Sexton was owning the game.
Murray was also having a fine game having come in for some heavy criticism since the World Cup. He facilitated a flying Irish backline with some fluid passing from the breakdown.
Argentina continued to be sloppy close in and were second best to Peter O’Mahony and Henry throughout. There followed a brief flashpoint in the middle of the park before prop Maximiliano Bustos was given 10-minute rest for a wayward fist.
Zebo then demonstrated the other side of his game when he moved swiftly across the field to cut off a dangerous looking move.
New Zealand’s Micheal Bent came on for Mike Ross, who’d had an up-and-down afternoon, and immediately Ireland dismantled another Puma scrum. Bent looks like
he’s going to be an extremely valuable addition.
For the season that’s almost in it, anything else that followed was decoration. Following another period camped in the Argentinean 22', Ronan O’Gara, on for the majestic Sexton, fed Earls who slid another grubber through for Bowe to touch down.
Zebo then made probably his first real mistake of the afternoon, making a present of a kick through when he knocked on. Argentina bundled over under the posts and repeated the trick in the last minute but it couldn’t take the sheen off a heartening Irish performance. 46-24 the final score.
The verdict: a wave of optimism heading into the Six Nations and a number of outstanding performances. Have we been here before?
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