This quarter-final victory felt like the culmination of an eight-year project for Argentina. Finally we can stop talking about 2007 because the nation has totally re-invented its style. Gone is the up-and-unders and slow, painful forwards’ slog. After four rewarding years of Rugby Championship action, this is a far slicker, attack-minded side, who play with pace and guile. And more than that, they deserve great praise.
As for Ireland, their horrible record of never winning a World Cup knockout match endures. They mounted a mini comeback in this one, coming within three points of the Pumas in the second half, but they just could not handle Argentina’s sly offloading and superb support play.
Pumped up Pumas – They were weeping during the anthems, they started at a raging pace and they scored two scintillating tries in ten minutes. The first was a kick return with Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe collecting a skip-pass and feeding Matias Moroni who evaded both Kearney brothers to score. The second was one wing, Juan Imhoff, collecting the kick through from the other wing, Santiago Cordero.
Before Ireland knew what was going on they were 17-0 down in as many minutes. As Joe Schmidt said after the game, it was a mountain to climb. A lot of talk after the match was about the gap between northern and southern hemisphere rugby, but in this one-off contest it was the early points gap that proved crucial.
Key turnovers – Ireland did mount the briefest of comebacks over the end of the first half and the start of the second, and it was largely based on the smart use of ball when their wily forwards turned over Argentine attackers. However, when Argentina got back into gear, the turnovers became less crucial.
Bright young forwards – In Tomas Lavanini, Argentina have a star. The 22-year-old has the total package, in set-piece, carrying and defending. And although Iain Henderson may not have shone in this one, he has such frightening potential. Meanwhile, Jordi Murphy looked like nothing at this level phases him.
The form ten in the tournament? – Another game, another Man of the Match award for Nicolas Sanchez. He’s in fine fettle and playing in a World Cup semi. Anything could happen from here on in…
Ireland’s scrum – every time a ball dropped, a few Irish hearts must have as well. Throughout the first half Marcos Ayerza was gleefully grinding into Mike Ross and with such momentum, Chris Henry always had to back-pedal to make his next tackle. At the start of the second, Ireland put in one big scrum… but then subbed off both of their props.
The offside line from rucks – For all of Argentina’s get-up-and-go, they are no firm respecters of the offside-line. Just take a few steps back, lads, and you’ll be able to make your tackles. And while we’re at it, please stop flying over rucks and crashing off your feet.
190 – The number of combined metres Argentina’s wings made with ball in hand.
564 – The number of metres Ireland kicked for.
7 – The number of clean breaks Argentina made.
IRELAND: R Kearney; T Bowe (L Fitzgerald 13), K Earls, R Henshaw, D Kearney; I Madigan, C Murray (E Reddan 70); C Healy (J McGrath 51), R Best (R Strauss 66), M Ross (N White 51), I Henderson (D Ryan 71), D Toner, J Murphy (R Ruddock 70), C Henry, J Heaslip (capt).
Tries (2): Fitzgerald, Murphy. Cons: Madigan 2. Pens: Madigan 2.
ARGENTINA: J Tuculet; S Cordero, M Moroni (J De la Fuente 68), JM Hernandez, J Imhoff; N Sanchez, M Landajo (T Cubelli 53); M Ayerza (L Noguera 67), A Creevy (capt) (Js Montoya 54), R Herrera, G Petti (M Alemanno 60), T Lavanini, P Matera, JM Fernandez Lobbe, L Senatore (P Orlandi 23, F Isa 51))
Tries (4): Moroni, Imhoff 2, Tuculet. Cons: sanchez 4. Pens: Sanchez 5.
Yellow card: R Harrera (17)
REFEREE: Jerome Garces (France)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Nicolas Sanchez
ATTENDANCE: 72, 316