Argentina v Ireland: Three talking points from first Test
Argentina v Ireland: Three talking points as Joe Schmidt's men edge past the Pumas 29-17 in first Test
Ireland stutter past Pumas
The Six Nations champions were overwhelming favourites to win their opening Test match against a weakened Argentina side in the outpost of Resistencia, but it was far from easy as they secured just their first Test win over Los Pumas in Argentina. Northern hemisphere rivals England, Wales and France will all be tested to breaking point against the three giants of southern hemisphere rugby as Joe Schmidt’s squad are in South America. Defensively Ireland were not at their best against a freestyle attacking game. They should have cruised through the game after dominating the opening stages, but it wasn’t to be as they took until the 58th minute to wrap up a win before allowing Argentina to get back in through shaky defending. Schmidt will not like that. There were a number of standout performances: debutant Ulster flanker Robbie Diack was a beast as he got about the game in the opening minutes and didn’t look back, guilty of wasting an overlap opportunity in the opening quarter as he was hit by white line fever, but the IRFU will be pleased with his continued development and he will join Ireland’s embarrassment of riches in the back row in the coming 16 months. Munster wing Simon Zebo also got through a power of work as he looks to earn a long-term recall to the Ireland set-up after missing out on the Six Nations and looked dangerous on the attack with some elusive running, while outside-half Johnny Sexton was also influential as he landed 13 points including the second try before going off injured. Another worry for Schmidt on what could be an underwhelming tour.
Freestyling inexperienced Pumas impress
Former Glasgow Warriors centre Gabriel Ascarate lit up the match at times and showed more of what Scottish rugby missed after his contract was ended early due to injury. Manuel Montero was another bright spark for Argentina as the winger ripped apart the Ireland backline for their opening try, a world class effort that any nation could be proud of after good work from full-back Joaquin Tuculet to beat Zebo to a high ball and outside-half Nicholas Sanchez’s with both players enjoying glimpses of creativity against Ireland. There was often little structure to their attacking play, but whatever it was, it worked as Ireland dropped off or missed tackles. There was little doubt that Ireland had enough to win, but with so many of their Europe-based players absent and another outing in the Rugby Championship later this year to come, they could cause some surprises at the Rugby World Cup next year.
No Drico, but the old tricks still work
It wasn’t the most perfect of performances, but the first match after Brian O’Driscoll’s retirement still resulted in a morale-boosting win ahead of next week’s second Test. The debate will rage on over who should take the iconic green 13 jersey, occupied on Saturday, by Ulster’s Darren Cave, but the famous Ireland driving maul again showed it is one of the most potent weapons in world rugby while Sexton was up to his old tricks with some trademark wraparounds straight off the Leinster training ground and both featured in Ireland’s first two tries. Ireland were without their big names from Leinster, which may explain why their defence was more fragile than usual and, at times, unable to snuff out the Pumas. The Irish lineout and scrum, led by captain Paul O’Connell, also came to the rescue in their own 22 and the front row were easily on top of their Argentine counterparts despite Tomas De la Vega’s late try. For some players, it has been a long season, and Schmidt may think about leaving out big names for the second Test in Tucuman and treating it as a full-blooded trial. It’s time a good time for fringe players to step up and for one or two senior players to show what they can do out of the shadow of one of rugby’s greats.