Schmidt can't hide his mixed emotions
Ireland boss hopes young players will learn as O'Connell laments loss of momentum
IRELAND flew out of Buenos Aires yesterday not sure what to make of it all.
Argentina 17 Ireland 23
The coaching staff and players boarded long-haul flights to various corners of the world with a first Test series win over Argentina in the bag, but a lingering doubt about the whole experience in their heads.
It is possibly just as well Joe Schmidt had the furthest to go as the coach has much to drink in.
As he made his way to Auckland to join up with the U-20s ahead of the final game of the Junior World Cup, the Ireland coach would have been running through the past 14 days he has spent with his squad, forensically assessing the 29 players he used and considering his first season as coach.
The 2013/14 season will be filed under success, with the lingering regret around those final moments on November 24 when the All Blacks deprived Ireland of history.
Paris helped ease that pain and re-emphasised the idea that the team are moving in the right direction under their new coach.
Two unconvincing wins over an understrength but impressive Pumas side will register little space in the history books and it may not be until the World Cup that we know whether this two-week jaunt was beneficial.
After the first Test, Paul O'Connell cast a lingering look at England's exploits in New Zealand and wondered aloud were they getting more from the exercise.
However, a Wales team missing a host of front-liners struggling in Durban may have tempered his view.
All of Ireland's most important players will report for pre-season training without injury next September and that's not to be sniffed at 12 months out from a World Cup. Still, there is concern that momentum was lost in Argentina.
"It's very frustrating and disappointing because one of the things we want to do is to keep progressing, keep making little steps all of the time and we probably didn't do that over the last two weeks," O'Connell said.
"You can only play what's in front of you. We can't all go down to New Zealand or Australia and play them. This was our tour, we had to make the most of it.
"You know, it probably wasn't the worst tour considering a few front-liners were missing, it was the first tour without Drico (Brian O'Driscoll) as well and it is a big learning curve with Joe.
"I noticed that myself in November, even in the early days of the Six Nations, you are being asked to do a lot of things that you wouldn't be used to with your home provinces so I think, performance-wise and results-wise it was disappointing. But a lot of guys have gotten on the bike with regard to how Joe does things and from that point of view it's good."
Argentina's performance was outstanding considering the list of names they were missing, but, like in the first Test, they were helped by Ireland's sloppiness. Schmidt could be thankful for the outstanding performance of the dynamic Rhys Ruddock, who announced himself as a real rival to Peter O'Mahony, while Simon Zebo, Rob Kearney and Eoin Reddan were excellent. Iain Henderson and Jack McGrath came off the bench to good effect.
The tourists showed some character to get themselves out of the hole they had dug themselves, with Reddan and Zebo combining for the first try and Ian Madigan reprising his super-sub role to seal it, with Argentina pulling a try back at the death.
The first half had followed a familiar pattern, with Johnny Sexton guiding Ireland into a six-point lead, only for Argentina to get a man sin-binned and score a try while down to 14 men – just as happened a week previous.
This time Ireland were also down a man after Andrew Trimble took Manuel Montero out without the ball as Nicolas Sanchez narrowed the gap with a penal
ty, before O'Connell opted for a scrum under the posts when Sexton had the chance to restore the six-point lead and it resulted in a 10-point swing.
Although Ireland got the nudge-on first time around and forced another penalty, Argentina summoned one last effort and the below-par Jamie Heaslip picked and passed forward to Chris Henry. From the resultant scrum on his own five-metre line, Martin Landajo spotted a gap and raced into Irish territory. The visitors scrambled, but Joaquin Tuculet stepped past Chris Henry to score.
That had the disappointingly muted crowd on their feet and, although Sexton pulled a penalty back to make it 10-9 at the break, Ireland had good reason to be nervous. However the excellent Reddan calmed the nerves with a clever inside pass to put Zebo over, before Madigan finished it off.
There was still time for Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino to give some respectability to the scoreline, but Ireland had claimed the series.
By that stage the coach had introduced three new debutants, even if their caps came far too late – or in Rob Herring's case in the wrong position – to have any chance of impressing.
Schmidt was pleased to use his full squad, while he name-checked Ruddock, McGrath, Zebo, Reddan, Kearney and Trimble for different moments. However, he was disappointed by the lack of protection afforded to the ball when Ireland were in possession.
He reckons the new faces now know what's required after two weeks in his company.
"The players have learned; they have learned about what the level is. There was a number of front-liners missing for Argentina – imagine with the full Argentina team out (there) what the level is," said Schmidt.
"I think a few players are a little bit shell-shocked at what the level is and sometimes when you have had that shock you get the head down and you work a bit harder because you know that you are going to have to be a little bit better prepared next time.
"If that is the outcome of what was a disappointing performance in patches today then I'd be pretty happy."
ARGENTINA – J Tuculet (M Orlanda 48); L Gonzalez Amorosino, J De la Fuente, G Ascarate (J Tuculet 61), M Montero; N Sanchez (SG Iglesias 65), M Landajo (capt) (T Cubelli 61); LN Paz (R Herrerra 68), M Cortese (S Iglesias Valdez 21) (B Postiglioni 63), R Herrera (M Diaz 51); M Carizza, T Lavanini (M Alemanno 69); R Baez, T De la Vega, A Ahuali de Chazal (S Iglesias Valdez 11-19, J Ortega Desio 64).
IRELAND – R Kearney; A Trimble, F McFadden, D Cave (N Reid 73), S Zebo; J Sexton (I Madigan 65), E Reddan (K Marmion 77); D Kilcoyne (J McGrath 57), R Best, M Ross (J Cronin 73); D Toner (I Henderson h-t), P O'Connell (capt); R Ruddock (R Herring 77), C Henry (J Murphy 63), J Heaslip.
REF – P Gauzere (France).