Joe Schmidt and his team have plenty to work on before the All Blacks visit next weekend.
Murray Kinsella reports from the Aviva Stadium
THERE WERE HEART-in-the-mouth moment for the home fans and Joe Schmidt’s side did their best to keep Argentina in this contest for the first three quarters, but Ireland emerged from a scrappy performance in Dublin with a three-try victory.
With Schmidt having made 13 changes to the team that won against Italy in Chicago last weekend, there was always likely to be some degree of rustiness but the Ireland head coach would have been tearing his hair out at some aspects of his display.
Though the scrum was utterly dominant, Ireland’s lineout stuttered at crucial moments, they lost two restarts and made several uncharacteristic decision-making and aerial errors.
It would have been demanding to expect Ireland to click instantly back into the form that brought them a Grand Slam last season, but this performance was underwhelming ahead of the visit of the All Blacks next weekend.
Ireland weren’t helped by losing centre Robbie Henshaw to injury during the warm-up, with Ulster’s Will Addison coming directly into the starting team at outside centre having been initially left out of the matchday squad.
There was concern for Sean O’Brien too, who looked to suffer a serious forearm injury when a Pumas ball-carrier’s head collided with his arm and forced him off injured, while starting scrum-half Kieran Marmion also limped off.
Jordan Larmour, who started at fullback after his hat-trick in Chicago, made errors in the aerial battle and exposed himself to turnovers at times, while lineout caller Iain Henderson will be disappointed with how that element of the game unfolded.
It would be a surprise if Rob Kearney doesn’t return at fullback next weekend if he recovers from a shoulder injury as expected, while Devin Toner’s calm influence was missed from kick-off and he made a good impression off the bench.
Another man who did that was the superb Dan Leavy, who replaced O’Brien just before half-time and proved to be a dominant figure with his abrasive and dynamic play in the loose.
Further comfort for Schmidt came in the form of replacement scrum-half Luke McGrath’s crucial final try for Ireland in what was a tidy cameo.
Marmion was Ireland’s first try-scorer, rewarding brilliant scrum dominance from Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong and co., while centre Bundee Aki also barrelled over for a first-half try that started at the scrum – the source of Ireland’s three tries.
The outstanding James Ryan was named man of the match for Ireland after delivering another superb performance, with his ball-carrying and defensive fight impressing yet again.
The Pumas, for their part, were good for 60 minutes but didn’t have the energy to finish out a solid performance that saw them give Ireland a few scares and score one try through Bautista Delguy.
Out-half Nicolás Sánchez kicked four penalties to punish some Irish indiscipline and leave Schmidt’s side with plenty to work on before the All Blacks come to town.
Addison had three touches inside the first minute to help him settle in but Larmour left on his back after a carry, allowing Agustín Creevy and Matías Orlando to combine for a turnover penalty that Sánchez slotted.
Ireland didn’t take long to respond, with their scrum laying the foundation from five metres out after CJ Stander had been held up over the tryline just before.
Ireland’s pack took their Pumas counterparts apart with a sensational shunt, drawing a penalty advantage and allowing Marmion to snipe off the base of the set-piece to score inside Sánchez’s tackle attempt.
The unconverted try didn’t settle Ireland, however, as Ramiro Moyano won the restart over Keith Earls and Peter O’Mahony was then penalised for an off-the-ball tackle, Sánchez putting the visitors back in front off the tee.
Guido Petti, normally a second row but cleverly selected here at blindside flanker, picked off an Ireland lineout soon after, before Jacob Stockdale knocked the ball on in the air, providing the Pumas with an attacking scrum just inside Ireland’s half.
Orlando burst powerfully through Johnny Sexton and Aki’s tackle effort from that platform, offloading to Jerónimo de la Fuente, who skillfully found Delguy in turn.
Sánchez went close to scoring a couple of phases later but the Pumas were patient in working their overlap as Ireland scrambled. The out-half popped up again to deliver a skip pass wide right to number eight Javier Ortega Desio and, with Rory Best and Healy struggling to cover across, he fed Delguy for a simple finish.
The Pumas led 11-5 but again Ireland were able to find a reaction. The scrum was essential again, just after Ryan had lost a transfer from Henderson at a close-range lineout.
With Healy and Furlong powerful again, Ireland won the scrum against the head and powered forward through some meaty O’Brien and Stander carries. Penalty advantage came for an offside and with the ball becoming scrappy, Marmion popped to his Connacht team-mate Aki, who burst over from five metres out.
Sexton’s conversion left Ireland just 14-12 behind but still Schmidt’s side were shaky, Henderson knocking-on the restart and then Larmour allowing a Pumas bomb to bounce behind his own tryline.
But a scrum penalty and Ryan’s superb maul turnover lifted the pressure and then Pumas captain Pablo Matera was pinged for not releasing the ball after a big Aki hit.
As Sexton opted to kick for goal from 50 metres out, O’Brien was replaced by Leavy.
Ireland’s out-half hammered the three points over and Ireland led at 15-14 at the break, although not before they gave Argentina one last first-half chance through Sánchez’s missed drop goal effort.
Ireland were behind again within two minutes of the restart, Leavy penalised for making a tackle while he was off his feet and Sánchez popping over the points.
Larmour continued to struggle as he lost an aerial ball forward, but Leavy soon won a big turnover to steal possession back.
Sexton was tackled late off the ball as Ireland attacked and attempted another 49-metre shot at goal but this time came up just short.
Ireland’s lineout was in poor condition at that point, Petti stealing another Best throw in the Argentina 22 before Henderson scrappily won another near halfway, forcing Ireland to kick the ball away.
But the Pumas’ lack of discipline was costly as lock Tomás Lavanini twice got pinged for not rolling away, Sexton punishing him on the second occasion by firing over a penalty for an 18-17 Ireland lead in the 58th minute.
With Schmidt sending on Toner, Jack McGrath and Sean Cronin, as well as scrum-half McGrath for the injured Marmion, Ireland found impetus heading into the final quarter.
Addison’s clever pass saw Larmour grubber up the right for a five-metre defensive Pumas lineout and, typically, O’Mahony picked it off, Ireland lauching their powerful carrying at the visitors and Leavy just being held up under the posts.
From the resulting scrum, McGrath picked off the base and sharply sniped right before rapidly stepping back to the inside of flanker Matera and finishing beside the posts to allow Sexton a straightforward conversion for a 25-17 lead.
The Ireland out-half added another late penalty to put a little further gloss on the display and though Schmidt will be pleased to come through this test, he will be aware that much better is required for next weekend.
Tries: Kieran Marmion, Bundee Aki, Luke McGrath
Conversions: Johnny Sexton [2 from 3]
Penalties: Johnny Sexton [3 from 4]
Tries: Bautista Delguy
Conversions: Nicolás Sánchez [0 from 1]
Penalties: Nicolás Sánchez [4 from 4]
IRELAND: Jordan Larmour; Keith Earls, Will Addison, Bundee Aki (Andrew Conway ’76), Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton (Joey Carbery ’76), Kieran Marmion (Luke McGrath ’57); Cian Healy (Jack McGrath ’53), Rory Best (captain) (Sean Cronin ’58), Tadhg Furlong (Andrew Porter ’68); Iain Henderson (Devin Toner ’59), James Ryan; Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien (Dan Leavy ’39), CJ Stander.
ARGENTINA: Emiliano Boffelli; Bautista Delguy, Matias Orlando (Matías Moroni ’58), Jerónimo De La Fuente, Ramiro Moyano; Nicolás Sánchez (Joaquin Diaz Bonilla ’72), Tomás Cubelli (Gonzalo Bertranou ’64); Santiago García Botta (Juan Pablo Zeiss ’58), Agustín Creevy (Julián Montoya ’64), Santiago Medrano (Lucio Sordoni ’72); Matías Alemanno, Tomás Lavanini; Pablo Matera (captain) (Rodrigo Bruni ’70), Guido Petti (Tomás Lezana ’64), Javier Ortega Desio.
Referee: Nic Berry [Australia].
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