Sunday, September 30, 2007

Perfect Pumas!

Ireland came out with all guns blazing, the first couple of minutes saw some ferocious tackling. Ireland won a penalty close to the Argentinian line and O'Gara immediately went for the corner. Jerry Flannery [right] threw to Paul O'Connell but it went straight through his fingers, into Argentinian hands at the back of the lineout.

Argentina had a punt at goal in the 9th minute, but Felipe Contepomi couldn't manage to score. They nearly had a try shortly after with a chip and chase, but the Irish defence held firm.

The first 10 minutes saw Irland in charge, but the next twenty seemed to belong to Argentina. In the 14th minute, Argentina had a great drive to the line, the forwards rumbling along, eventually winning a put-in at the scrum on 5m from the Irish line. From the back, it swung out to the right wing and Lucas Borges [left] went over for a vital first score. The conversion went wide, so it was only 5-0 up for Argentina.

Ireland won a penalty in the 19th minute, this time Ronan O'Gara chose to take 3 sure points to make it 5-3. At the restart, Argentina were on the attack, and the try wasn't quite on, so Juan Martín Hernández [right] dropped a lovely goal from midfield to nullify the Ireland penalty.

In the 23rd minute, Hernández took a fantastic high ball like a pro fullback, and the resulting chip ahead from Agustin Pichot saw O'Gara have to clear to touch in panic. Phases from the lineout and resulting scrum saw Argentina push right up to the line, only coming up short with a knock-on.

The Ireland scrum was won but they had to clear quickly from the in-goal area, giving Argentina a couple of attacking lineouts in the Irish half. Eventually, Argentina were done for not releasing the ball, and O'Gara finally found a good kick into the opponents' half. Ireland were making headway, but some hard tackles saw Ireland driven 20m back into their own half.

Soon after, Ignacio Corleto gave away a penalty by shouldering Geordan Murphy. From the penalty, Brian O'Driscoll [left] ran through the Argentine defence to score next to the posts, the first try Argentina have conceded so far, and the conversion came easily to bring Ireland into the lead, 8-10.

The pendulum seemed to swing back again, with the Irish bossing things around. Argentina won a scrum on the half way line, and they were back into attack mode in the Irish half. The defence held the try at bay, but Hernández took another pop at goal to bring the lead back to the Pumas, 11-10.

It was another fantastic piece of play in the Irish half, which started with Hernández again taking a high kick of his own, some great passing out of the tackle and winger Horacio Agulla scores a try in the corner! Contepomi converted with a bounce off the woodwork. Ireland looked in trouble, going in at the break 18-10.

After the restart, Argentina mauled their way into the Irish half, won a penalty and Contepomi did the honours - 21-10. Another nail in the Irish coffin...

The men in green worked their way patiently upfield from a lineout, but Argentina turned it over. They cleared, but Ireland had another lineout, worked it across field and Geordan Murphy [right] was the last man in the line to dive over in the right corner. O'Gara's kick went wide, so it was 21-15.

At 50 minutes, Ireland won a scrum in their own half, kicked high, but it was a 22m dropout. Just after, Argentina lost their lineout, but turned over Ireland's attack, and drilled the ball back into the Irish 10m zone. Argentina's turnover abilities seemed prolific - how often did we see green go to ground with the ball, only for it to emerge in the hands of a blue and white jersey?

Just when Ireland seemed to be putting a few phases of play together, they have a shocking forward pass and give Argentina the scrum 40m out. In the 61st minute, Argentina forced another penalty and Contepomi added another three to take them 24-16 in front. Donncha O'Callaghan [left] made a high tackle on Contepomi in the 64th minute, and gave away another penalty - 27-16 ahead. The Irish hill seemed insurmountable - time to bring on some subs.

In the 67th minute, Ireland nearly touched down but for a massive defensive catch from Ignacio Corleto, taking the ball out of his hands. Argentina camped in the Irish half again, going through the phases and waiting patiently for points any way they can - drop goal, penalty or try. Pichot passed but the drop goal attempt was wide.

The Pumas pack had the game by the scruff of the neck, rucking for their lives, turning over possession and making massive hits. Ireland had a late renaissance during the last ten minutes. Roncero gave away a penalty in his own half, and Ireland went for the corner. The lineout was taken well, the Irish supporters were singing away, the forwards rumbled on, possession was kicked away and Argentina's scrambled defence took off the heat.

The final nail in the coffin came in the 79th minute when Juan Martín Hernández slotted a left-footed drop goal, his hatrick, taking their final tally to 30-15.

Every time Ireland came at them, the Pumas seemed to have an answer. They looked by far the sharper team, and can now look forward to a quarter final against Scotland in Paris, sending the French to Cardiff to face the All Blacks for their quarterfinal. Not at all what the host nation had hoped for, and those pesky Pumas have done them no favours. And with the way Scotland have played so far, they must be seen as underdogs for the match - so who knows how far the Pumas can go? Good for them!

A month ago, who would have put money on England and Scotland being the only two home nations to make it into the quarters? And I'm not betting my mortgage on how long Eddie O'Sullivan can remain in his job, after such a promising Irish team (at least on paper) have failed to deliver. Funny old game, eh?

No comments: