Thursday, October 22, 2015


Alas, Ireland were left dwelling on another failed World Cup semi-final bid as their depleted ranks were ruthlessly put to the sword by a scintillating Argentina outfit at the Millennium Stadium.

One more win too big an ask with crocked leaders
Ireland's full-back Rob Kearney (C) is tackled by Argentina's centre Matias Moroni (L) and Argentina's wing Santiago Cordero (R)

None of us will know for sure how today would have transpired had Ireland been able to call on O’Connell, Sexton, O’Mahony, O’Brien and Payne, but the toll of their loss was undeniably evident.
There isn’t a team in the world that would not feel a similar mass decimation, notably after the crescendo to the Pool phase and in the face of an Argentina unit who were rampant, belligerent and refined in equal measure.
A dejected Ireland fan in the stands during the Rugby World Cup match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
A dejected Ireland fan in the stands during the Rugby World Cup match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

It may not come as any consolation to the Irish players as they ponder more underachievement on the global stage but, to a man, their bravery was awe-inspiring. And, in reality, even if Joe Schmidt had a full deck at his disposal the outcome may not have differed, though possibly a little closer. Because, maybe, maybe not, the last three games have shown- the disparity between the northern and southern hemispheres is only getting bigger.

Argentina's Juan Martin Hernandez celebrates after the referee awarded them a try
Reuters / Toby Melville

Ireland tellingly blown away in the opening quarter
Whether it was nerves, shell-shock or a physical hangover from the battle with France, but Ireland simply could not cope with the ferocious wave of Argentine pressure that swept them away in the early goings. The period proved decisive.

Conversely, Los Pumas, having rested a majority of their front liners for their final group game with Namibia, were brimming with brutish brio; their ball-carriers consistently broke the gain-line and they smashed all in sight at the breakdown, where Ireland conceded a glut of penalties (20 of their points would come from that source).
By the 12th minute Ireland were 14 points down, thanks to converted tries from Matias Moroni and Juan Imhoff.  Sanchez then sent over penalties in between Madigan getting Ireland off the mark, with the scoreboard reading an ominous 20-3 with just 22 minutes on the clock.

The Pumas opener, in particular, was a stunning example of their evolving offence. Fullback Tuculet fielded Sanchez’s Garryowen, and the South Americans swiftly went left to right through big carries, notably from flanker Pablo Matera, before Moroni cantered over in the corner.
The pair of tries sandwiched the ignominious sight of Argentina’s driving Ireland off their own ball in the game’s first scrum, which ultimately led to Imhoff’s score.

Fitzgerald try temporarily turns the tide

The scarcely believable injury hex that has blighted Ireland over the last week reared its head again as Tommy Bowe was carried off in just the 13th minute. As the Ulster man was being carted to the dressing room, Sanchez sent over a penalty to make it 17-0.
However, his replacement Luke Fitzgerald made a spectacular intervention 13 minutes later as went over for his fourth, but most important international try.

Murray retrieved a loose kick, Heaslip carried into contact before Ireland fluently put it through hands, and Henshaw stood up some defenders, allowing the Leinster man swiftly step in off his wing, then jet-heel through a horde of Pumas to dot down.
Madigan added the conversion, but missed a subsequent penalty, though Ireland went into the break with a far more palatable 10 points to make up.

Ireland harness momentum after the break before Argentina ruthlessly wrestles it back
Chris Henry won a pivotal penalty as Argentina came out of the blocks with similar haste at the restart. Jordi Murphy claimed the line-out resulting from Madigan’s subsequent kick to touch, but the flanker wasn’t finished.
Luke Fitzgerald’s searing brake cut the Argentine line to pieces and Murphy was on hand to take the wing’s pass and go over for his first international try. After Madigan’s conversion the deficit was reduced to three points with 45 minutes played.

Sanchez and Madigan then traded penalties, before the latter failed to draw level with another just before the hour.
The peerless Sanchez scored another penalty, before Tuculet’s fine try in the 68th minute , engineered by another seamless left to right move, proved the killer blow. The incredible Imhoff rubbed salt in the Ireland’s wounds as he slalomed past waning defenders to give his side an ultimately deserved 20 point lead.

Argentina’s wide game a sight to behold
It was no secret that the Pumas’ back three held a serious speed advantage over their counterparts in green, though perhaps not to the degree to which we saw today. However, they obviously targeted Ireland in this area. Every time Argentina put width on the ball they resembled a paler All Blacks.
Imhoff, Cordero and full back Tuculet were afforded the wonderfully selected passes of Hernandez and Sanchez while hitting full stride so they were almost perpetually making significant yardage.

Their acceleration, appreciation of space and compelling ambition typified a Pumas outfit that are unrecognisable since joining the Rugby Championship four years ago. They will take some beating from here, and you wouldn’t envy Australia come the semi-final, especially after winning so controversially to Scotland.
©Irish Independent

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