Stockdale leads the charge
Ireland 28 Argentina 19
Well before the half-hour mark at a freezing Aviva Stadium yesterday the Pumas packed down to a scrum around their own 10-metre line. Having already started to experience discomfort at that phase, they had to expend more energy than they would have liked just to win the ball. Job done, they shifted it wide. Mistake lads.
Watching the forwards get to their designated positions on the field to carry the ball off that wide ruck was like seeing men woken in the middle of the night and told they were working an extra shift. Having dragged themselves into position, they promptly turned the ball over on the next carry.
That little sequence illustrated perfectly the dilemma for a squad who have been hauling their asses around the world since the Super Rugby season kicked off last spring. The question then was whether the Puma mentality could overcome draining physicality and turn around a game that, by that point, was already 13-0 in their hosts' favour.
They did manfully on the first bit - an achievement in itself - but came up short on the second. Indeed, they did so well they made Ireland look anxious for much of the second period.
Having turned around 13-0 in front, the home side then got over again, through man of the match Jacob Stockdale, with his second on the day, his fourth in as many Tests. Sexton's conversion made it 20-0. And still the Pumas made a game of it.
"We get energy and passion from the jersey," their captain Agustin Creevy said afterwards. "It's been a long, tiring season but it means a lot to us to play for Argentina."
So, three from three for Ireland in what, under Joe Schmidt, has become a good month to play rugby. And this one better than most, for the players who have come through to deepen the squad. Chris Farrell had to fill the hole left by Robbie Henshaw and carried really well. The forwards were good as a unit, with Sean O'Brien - bar one daft one-handed offload - outstanding.
Top of the list of new arrivals, however, was Stockdale. In a backline that was mostly very good, he was outstanding. It wasn't the best first half we have seen from a Schmidt side but it was certainly on the podium for the best half-hour award. Fast, accurate and unremittingly physical, the tone had been set from the off when they all but held up a banner saying there would be no hiding place for anyone in need of a breather. By the end they were glad of the rest themselves.
So no kicking for position then. Every second play had an option out the back, and more often than not that was what was chosen. More running for the Argentinians then.
Two penalties from Johnny Sexton - the second, worryingly for the Pumas, was off a shunted scrum - had Ireland 6-0 ahead on 13 minutes.
Interestingly, the first chance the visitors got to establish a foothold in Irish territory they passed up in favour of a long-range shot at goal from Emiliano Boffelli. Teams with energy would choose territory.
A few minutes later they went further behind to a Stockdale try. From the training ground to the playing pitch: a scrum with Sexton connecting to a Farrell popped pass, and then the two versus one to put Stockdale clear from 40 metres. Sexton's conversion was a tap-over.
Stockdale went over again inside two minutes of the second half. The Pumas hadn't touched the ball from Mathieu Raynal's whistle to start the second period. So 13-0 became 20-0 and Creevy was battling to keep his players on message.
But having come out early after the break - it can't have been much craic in the changing room - they at least passed up shots at goal in favour of attacking off their lineout. Eventually they got some reward, when after lengthy deliberation Raynal gave the thumbs up to a try for Joaquin Tuculet, latching on brilliantly to a grubber from Nicolas Sanchez.
It was a good return for their efforts but on 63 minutes Ireland had got over again, this time through CJ Stander, aided by a massive maul involving about 11 players in green. Sexton missed the conversion and back came the Pumas again.
Replacement Juan Manuel Leguizamon finished well off a big Sanchez pass to give the Pumas another score, but Sexton tapped over another penalty on 75 minutes as Ireland too looked like they needed a break. Ramiro Moyano got over in the 80th minute to leave Argentina with more than consolation to take away from the game.
On an emotional day for them - there were a few moments' silence before the start in respect of the missing Argentine navy submarine - they delivered more than could be expected.
Scorers - Ireland: Stockdale 2 tries, Stander try; Sexton 3 pens, 2 cons. Argentina: Tuculet, Leguizamon, Moyano try each; Sanchez 2 cons
Ireland: R Kearney; A Byrne, C Farrell (A Conway 60), B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (I Keatley 67), C Murray; C Healy (D Kilcoyne 60), R Best (capt), T Furlong (John Ryan 67); James Ryan (D Toner 49), I Henderson; P O'Mahony (J Tracy 76), CJ Stander, S O'Brien (R Ruddock 64).
Argentina: J Tuculet; R Mayano, M Moroni, S Gonzalez Iglesias (J De La Fuente 56), E Boffelli (S Cancelliere 68); N Sanchez, M Landajo (G Bertanou 58); S Garcia Botta (L Noguera 64), A Creevy (capt, W Montoya 60), N Tetaz Chaparro (E Prieto 64); M Alemanno (J Pettipagadizabal 56), T Lavanini (JM Leguizamon 64); P Matera, T Lezanza, M Kremer.
Referee: M Raynal (France)
Sunday Indo Sport