Sport Rugby

Monday 19 February 2018

Young guns fire in rout of Pumas

After a week in which we were poring over what would happen to the international rankings if Team A beat B by a margin of more or less than 15 points, the statistic we hadn't considered was Ireland hosing the Pumas down to the tune of seven tries to two, and almost double scores. In the history of Ireland and Argentina we are not conditioned for outcomes like this. The two tries for Argentina, incidentally, were tail-end touchdowns long after the contest had been decided.

This was Ireland's biggest score, since the 62 points loaded on Russia in the World Cup last year, and the most comfortable margin since 32 points separated them from Italy in last season's Six Nations.

In the hours before kick-off, the bookies retreated from giving Argentina a seven points start, to five points, and still it seemed like a reasonable bet. A man nearby, who had taken Ireland to win by plus 15 points, was only sorry that he hadn't thrown more than a tenner on it. And his lament started early in the game.

International teams talk a lot about accuracy – usually when they don't have much of it. So it's been a recurring theme for Ireland for a long time. Well, on a crisp afternoon at Lansdowne Road, in front of 43,406, they hit the bullseye. And then reloaded and hit it again and again.

Having picked fliers in young Craig Gilroy, winning his first cap, and Simon Zebo, winning his third, it was reassuring to see that they went out of their way to use them. Gilroy had one ropey moment that will cause him to blush when the game is reviewed – he hoofed a ball out on the full for no apparent reason – but by then he had already terrorised the Argentinians, which was what he was selected to do.

They had hoped to bomb both himself and Zebo but they were so short on ammunition it was no more than a notion. And they were desperately short of a gallop as well. Ireland dragged them all over the park – cleverly opening up blind sides of maybe 20 metres and then hitting back there before going wide again – and in no time the Pumas were dead on their feet.

Off first phase Ireland were first class, using their 13 lineout wins (three were lost) to set up useful positions, and it opened the door to the first two tries, for Gilroy and the excellent Jonny Sexton, which defined the game.

At the end of the first quarter Ireland were 14-6 ahead, having had 70 per cent possession and 78 per cent territory. By the break the possession had gone up another five per cent and the scoreboard was at 24-9. It followed that the Pumas had not been overloaded with try-scoring opportunities. In fact, there had been just one, when Ireland were caught horribly short-staffed 40 metres out, but a break by Martin Landajo was hauled down with a terrific tackle from man-of-the-match Donnacha Ryan, aided by Zebo.

All the Pumas got from the effort was a penalty on the next phase, which Nicolas Sanchez converted. His stats were three from five, the last two of which – one hit, one miss – came after he spent five minutes in the 'head bin'. He had been all over the place on the way off, leaning heavily on a helper and staggering as he went. And, what do you know, he was back before you could recite the protocol for concussion.

You'd wonder what approach Santiago Phelan took in the Pumas' changing room at half time. It was his 15th Test of the season – most of his players had only been on international duty since the start of the Rugby Championship, but he was at every one – and he must have been running out of things to say to a tired team. You'd want extraordinary powers of oratory to reverse an evident physical decline. And if it was going to work then the revival would need to be immediate. A Sanchez penalty a couple of minutes into the second period got them to 12 points, but the trend of the game was re-established within a few minutes. First, Sexton knocked over a penalty to make it 27-12, and then the outhalf chipped perfectly over a flat defence for Tommy Bowe to score, followed on 51 minutes by his own second touchdown after good footwork from Gilroy had created the opportunity in the first place.

At 39-12 it was a rout, but Declan Kidney waited until after the hour mark before taking the seat belts off the bench. By that stage we had become accustomed to stoppages for wounded Pumas, four of whom had been taken off. If the scoreline hadn't killed the game then that did, and the only brief flurries of interest were when Argentina got their inevitable run on the ball – about five phases within sight of the Ireland line – only to turn it over with the crowd almost willing them to score. In the context of this fixture, such hospitality was unique.

It extended eventually to a try for replacement Tomas Leonardi with three minutes left, followed by one for the captain, the irrepressible Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, with the last act of the game. The only sign of resistance from the Pumas was when Maximiliano Bustos threw the ball at Cian Healy – and got carded for it.

Juan Martin Hernandez, showing all the care and attention you'd take over emptying your suitcase after an exhausting trip, drop-kicked the conversion to Lobbe's try. It hit the post. This was the man who had dropped three goals to end Ireland's World Cup in 2007. There was nothing in common between the two.

Ireland: S Zebo; T Bowe (F McFadden 75), K Earls, G D'Arcy, C Gilroy; J Sexton (R O'Gara 72), C Murray (E Reddan 72); C Healy (D Kilcoyne 75), R Strauss (S Cronin 75), M Ross (M Bent 68), D Ryan, M McCarthy (D O'Callaghan 63), P O'Mahony (I Henderson 72), J Heaslip, C Henry.

Argentina: JM Hernandez; G Camacho, M Bosch, S Fernandez, J Imhoff (M Montero 51); N Sanchez (G Tiesi 61), M Landajo; M Ayerza, E Guniazu (A Creevy 57), M Bustos (yc 64-740, M Carizza, J Cabello (T Valleja 78), JM Fernandez Lobbe, L Senatore (T Leonardi 54), J Leguizamon

Referee: J Peyper (SA)

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