Before the game even started you could see that Argentina were up for the occasion. A lot was made of Ireland’s inability to perform at a World Cup, but this is a different crop of Irish players, many of whom have experience of successful European campaigns and Lions tours.
Argentina started where the All Blacks left off. They shell shocked the Irish with unstoppable rugby scoring nearly a point a minute for the first quarter. The pace and width Argentina put on the ball made the Irish defence look like they were running through treacle. Both wingers showed their considerable talent when given the ball in space, and at this moment in time, the Pumas are the best side in the world at providing that space.
In defence they dealt with the Irish organisation easily with ferocious work at the contact area. The energy of the Pumas topped anything seen at the World Cup so far and sucked the life out of the Irish. Even losing a man to the sin bin made little difference initially. Time and time again Pablo Matera crashed over the gain line and the quick ball generated brought the world class back three into the game.
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Ireland defended narrowly all afternoon but were unable to compensate with any line speed and in the end that was the biggest factor in the result. It was surprising how such a well-drilled and tactically-aware squad could not adapt.
Eventually, Ireland showed what they could do with turnover ball to give themselves a glimmer of hope against the run of play. From that, the Argentinian onslaught died down somewhat and the crowd found their voice. Collisions started going the other way and the scrum became a more even contest.
There were no further changes to the scoreboard after Luke Fitzgerald's try in this half, but Ireland will have been relieved to be only ten points down after the first quarter.
Ireland came out the brighter side
They came out of the changing rooms much the brighter side and reaped the rewards through Fitzgerald’s second break to put Jordi Murphy in for the try. At this point it looked like Argentina would tire after their frenetic, emotional start, and Ireland would complete the biggest comeback in World Cup history.
Unnecessary Argentinian ill-discipline could have cost them, but their early lead remained intact. When they got possession attacking the wide channel continued to bear fruit as Ireland’s defensive alignment was exposed.
Ian Madigan had a hot and cold afternoon and the mistakes started to spread through the men in green. It was this stage where you really felt that Ireland were missing the core leaders in Jonathan Sexton and Daniel O’Connell. Despite all the good work of the second half, they never caught up where it mattered and finally the same defensive issues resulted in a fantastic finish from Joaquin Tuculet to put the result beyond reasonable doubt.
Drama and entertainment
It was fitting that the knockout blow came from an offload to the untouchable Juan Imhoff that cemented the Argentinian back division as one of the most lethal in world rugby.
This match had all the drama of the previous day and its fair share of entertaining running rugby. All the tries were made from gaps exploited on the wing which continues the ethos with which the Pumas have played all tournament. They have made strong sides look decidedly average in the group stages and with a hugely emotional performance they have proved that they can execute against the very best in the world.
It will require a massive effort but if Argentina can get up to the heights they reached here they will be nearly impossible to beat. It is perhaps too early to dream, but an Argentinean win is as plausible as it has ever been.
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