A lot to ponder for Joe Schmidt and Ireland after Argentina victory
Ireland claimed an expected first Test victory on Argentinean soil in the northern province of Chaco yesterday but Joe Schmidt will have plenty of fodder for his infamous video review on Monday morning.
ARGENTINA 17 IRELAND 29
The tourists were 16-point favourites against a Pumas side denied a host of big names and tore into their task from the off, but their defensive slackness gave this young side a sniff and they caused the Irish defence a host of problems.
The New Zealander will have learnt a lot from an exercise that saw Ulster’s Robbie Diack win his first cap from the start and Kieran Marmion and Rodney Ah You join him from the bench.
Despite the odd error, Simon Zebo had an effective game in attack in his first appearance of the Schmidt regime producing a couple off clever off-loads and threatening at every turn.
Ulster centres Luke Marshall and Darren Cave were a mixed bag of cutting attack, sloppy mistakes and poor defence, with the inside centre more culpable for a number of missed tackles.
However, in the home of scrummaging it was Ireland’s pack that got the job done and, in particular, the front-row of Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Mike Ross whose efforts in the scrum nullified a number of the hosts’ attacks.
The lineout also worked well as we got a reminder of the good work done by John Plumtree and Diack’s efforts in this regard were noteworthy.
The star of the show, however, was Sexton who has been the most popular member of the Irish squad among the locals and scored a try and created plenty for everyone else before coming off with 20 minutes remaining, perhaps with the second Test in mind.
By then, the job had been done and Ireland had survived the scare provided by the callow but game Argentinean side.
Schmidt’s side started with real venom and took the game to Argentina from the off, starving the hosts of possession and forcing them to make an inordinate amount of early tackles.
It looked early on like being every bit the mis-match many had predicted, but the tourists just couldn’t finish the chances they were creating for themselves.
Zebo made an early break and off-load, before Cave scythed through some poor Pumas defence only to find little support on his shoulder. He took contact as men in green arrived, but, despite a two-man overlap, Diack went inside and the chance eventually passed after Argentina went off their feet at the breakdown.
Sexton silenced the loud boos to make it 3-0, but a knock-on after Andrew Trimble collected the kick-off suggested things might not have been as tight as first seemed in the Irish side.
Still, they forced a penalty from the scrum and, from there, Sexton found touch and then took an outside line from Marshall before Felix Jones chipped into the corner and the chasers bundled Santiago Cordero over the line.
Zebo went close off a move from the resulting scrum, but after Conor Murray stepped inside the cover O’Connell went off his feet and the chance was gone.
As Ireland switched off, Gabriel Ascarate got the crowd off their feet for the first time by tapping the penalty and racing half-the-length of the field but his chip for Manuel Montero to chase was too strong and bounced into touch.
Still, Ireland looked the more threatening team – particularly off set plays – and Sexton was able to double the lead after Marshall split the defence after a trademark Schmidt play but, again, the support was slow in arriving before Argentina conceded the penalty.
The visitors were leading, but the Pumas were starting to find their feet and discover that the Irish defence was a little more porous than usual.
Their big winger Manuel Montero was having some joy opposite Andrew Trimble who he handed off before chipping ahead where the sweeping Murray cleaned up well, before Nicolas Sanchez slipped outside Chris Henry’s tackle but Ireland’s covering defence scrambled and Argentina had to make do with a 5m scrum.
From there, Martin Landajo spotted an overlap in the right corner and tried to find Santiago Cordero but although his pass didn’t go to hand, Zebo had come up offside and Sanchez narrowed the gap with the penalty.
Argentina suffered a blow minutes later when No8 Benjamin Macome took Andrew Trimble out in the air, but they responded brilliantly with the try of the match which saw full-back Joaquin Tuculet beat Zebo to a high ball and counter.
His initial burst was followed by Sanchez exploiting a poor Marshall tackle before drawing Jones and passing to Montero who outpaced Trimble and handed off Sexton to finish in the corner.
Sanchez nailed the tough conversion to breathe life into the Chaco crowd, but a superb Zebo chase saw him claim the kick-off and then be taken out at a subsequent maul allowing Sexton to find touch and Ireland to go to their trusty maul.
Deadly from 7m, Best found O’Connell and the Irish machine marched over with Henry touching down.
Sexton missed the conversion meaning Ireland led 11-10 at the break, but he made up for it two minutes after the resumption as debutant Diack stole an Argentinean lineout and the fly-half looped on Marshall to score.
Again, he couldn’t add the extras but Ireland had some breathing space at last.
Not that the Pumas were giving up, a Sanchez chip over the backline had Ireland in real trouble but their scrum got them out of trouble after a knock-on and the front-row efforts continued to cause the hosts trouble and help Schmidt’s side through a sticky period.
The contest was effectively ended when Argentina pushed their chase a little far with Sanchez trying a long pass that Trimble read and raced in untouched.
Sexton converted to make it 23-10 with 27 minutes remaining and Schmidt could begin to empty his bench with Marmion on for his debut and Jamie Heaslip having a calming influence.
Ian Madigan came on for Sexton and kicked two penalties to give the scoreline a somewhat flattering ring to it and an outrageous Zebo off-load nearly sent Cave over to add to the total only for the television match official to spot a foot in touch.
Tomas De la Vega pulled a late try back for the Pumas to restore some perspective to the scoreboard and it was the Pumas who finished on the front-foot ahead of next week’s second Test in Tucuman.
Both sides should improve by then, but a week’s more work on the training ground and some rested front-liners to return it is the tourists who have most to gain.
ARGENTINA -- J Tuculet; S Cordero (LG Amorosino 65), J De La Fuente, G Ascarate, N Montero; N Sanchez (SG Iglesias 70), M Landajo (capt) (T Cubelli 64); LN Paz (B Postiglioni 76), M Cortese (J Montoya 58), R Herrera; M Carizza (M Alemanno 58, T Lavanini (NT Chaparro 64); R Baez, T De la Vega, B Macome.
IRELAND – F Jones; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall (F McFadden 60), S Zebo; J Sexton (I Madigan 64), C Murray (K Marmion 53); J McGrath (D Kilcoyne 60), R Best (D Varley 67), M Ross (R Ah You 67); I Henderson, P O’Connell (capt) (D Toner 68); R Diack, C Henry, J Murphy (J Heaslip 53).
Referee: G Jackson (New Zealand)