Planet Rugby

Pumas gobble up Irish

30th September 2007 17:38

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Roncero in qf

Vamos! Rodrigo Roncero celebrates Argentina's qualification

Argentina have made it through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup as the top finishers in Pool D after recording a clinical 30-15 victory over Ireland in Paris on Sunday.

The result at Parc des Princes sends Ireland crashing out of the tournament and consigns hosts France to a quarter-final on foreign soil in Cardiff against New Zealand next weekend.

Argentina face Scotland in the Stade de France next Sunday, and must surely now be favourites to take a semi-final spot, most likely against South Africa.

Ireland fought gamely but Argentina's aggressive defence proved too much for the stuttering green attack.

The Pumas also managed two fine first-half tries, one from each wing, as the team proved its competence in all areas of the pitch.

Ireland went into the group eliminator needing a bonus-point victory, but only managed two tries through Brian O'Driscoll and Geordan Murphy.

Unbeaten Argentina never looked like losing, with wings Lucas Borges and Horacio Agulla claiming touchdowns, while masterly fly-half Juan Martín Hernández dropped three goals and cucumber-like centre Felipe Contepomi kicked 11 points.

And so Ireland follow Wales home, but not exactly following in red footsteps. The Welsh were equal to Fiji in all areas of play; Ireland came off a distinct second in all facets of play.

"It's hard to play against a side that refuses to play in their own half," lamented O'Driscoll in the wake of battle, and it's hard to argue with the man.

Argentina forced Ireland to build from deep, but never allowed them time to play the ball, let alone time to think about what to do with the thing.

The Pumas' ravenous defence gobbled up just about everything Ireland had to offer - it would take the local gendarmerie a week just to log the number of stolen green balls.

But the remarkable truth is that Ireland didn't play that badly. They showed good composure in the early stages of the game and glimpses of brilliance in first-phase play.

With Argentina looking slightly nervous from the off, Ireland set out their stall by sending their first penalty - from a highly kickable spot - into the corner.

It was a move intended to shake the hitherto unshakable Latinos. It backfired. Argentina managed to steal the line-out ball and clear their lines. And with that, Ireland's main weapon was spiked.

Buoyed by their defensive efforts, the Pumas strode into Irish territory - and there they remained for much of the match.

It was Argentina who had the first shot at goal as a moment of mindless Irish hot-potato combined with ruthless Argentine tackling to cough up an opportunity for Contepomi, but his kick at the sticks sailed wide.

The Leinster star then almost made amends by scoring after hacking on a loose ball, but his old friend Denis Hickie showed great pace to beat him to the touch-down.

Suddenly the tables had turned and the Pumas were in complete control.

Argentina plugged on, sparking up a rolling maul that almost had them over the whitewash.

That attack earned them a five-metre scrum from which Agustín Pichot picked up and went blind. He dragged in three would-be tacklers before feeding wing Lucas Borges who scooted over to score.

Contepomi missed the conversion, but first blood had been drawn - and Ireland's confident start added extra weight to the try.

The men in green managed to put the score to one side and responded well, with Brian O'Driscoll showing one of his trademark flashs of brilliance that have been in short supply in France. His raid won a penalty which O'Gara duly converted into three points, and Ireland's crusade was up and running.

But the Argentinians were in no mood to allow Irish dreams to take root. Hernández stamped out the green seed of hope by dropping a goal in the very next phase of play.

And from there they pushed and they pushed, keeping O'Gara teetering on his dead-ball line. Only heroic defence kept Ireland honest, but heroic defence was not at the top of Ireland's agenda: they still needed four tries and, with 30 minutes played, there was neither hide nor hair of a single one.

Every vague Irish skirmish across the half-way line was repelled by the ferocious Pumas, with scrum-half Eoin Reddan having particular trouble with the blue and white rash that was the offensive defence of the South Americans.

With patient phase-play patently not paying dividends for the Irish, it was time to turn to magic, and O'Driscoll took a peek up his sleeve.

O'Gara sent out a flat miss-pass from the back of an innocuous line-out outside Argentina's 22 and the Ireland captain meet the ball at full speed. Argentina's flat-footed defence could not stop the runaway centre as he jigged through and Ireland had their first try.

"It has started! It has started!" O'Driscoll yelled to the Pumas as they assembled under the sticks for O'Gara's successful conversion, but the Argentinians begged to differ.

Hernández, surely an Inuit in a previous life, dropped a nonchalant long-range goal before setting up his side's second try.

After collecting his own bomb he set the Pumas loose with a wonderful backhand flip that left the Irish clawing at air. The move was punctuated by Horacio Agulla in the right-hand corner, but not before the ball had passed through at least a dozen pairs of Argentine hands, with the impressive Gonzalo Longo delivering the final pass.

And so, at the break, Ireland were just a quarter of the way to only partial safety. Argentina, meanwhile, were coasting to the summit of the World Cup's toughest pool. Just two more tries would have put the Irish out of their misery instantly - perhaps it would have been a better way to go.

Ireland needed early points in the second half - instead they coughed up a penalty that Contepomi converted into three more coffin nails.

But a good-looking Irish attack soon had the crowd's green contingent on their feet and Murphy then had them dancing as he slid over the whitewash for Ireland's second.

Again, it was a deft miss-pass from O'Gara to O'Driscoll that did the damage. The Irish skipper then found David Wallace on his shoulder and the flank supplied the final pass.

O'Gara missed the conversion, but Ireland's dream began to flicker once more. They had kippered the Pumas with two first-phase tries that came straight off the blackboard. Could they learn from this? Could they build on this?

Straws loom like logs to drowning men, and O'Driscoll was soon thrashing around like he was on his last lungful. His troops duly followed suit and Argentina began to look fallible.

But only for a moment. A long punt downfield from Hernández was met by more Argentinians than Irish, and Contepomi soon had another kick at goal which he duly dispatched.

More Argentine pressure spawned another penalty opportunity for Contepomi which he duly cashed in as Eddie O'Sullivan played his last card by emptying his bench onto the pitch.

When up 27-15 and with 15 minutes to play, most sides would err on the side of caution. Not Argentina. They fought on as if they were chasing the game, hounding the Irish off the ball at every junction.

Their lust for contact finally began to rub off on the Irish and, with ten minutes to go, they began to look menacing at the breakdown.

A green penalty was soon dispatched into the corner but Argentina's impeccable defence nipped the raid in the bud.

The Irish faithful at Parc des Princes began to murmur a mournful rendition of the 'Fields of Athenry'. They knew the game was up, but no one had bothered to inform the Pumas. They continued to boss and bully and cajole before Hernández delivered the coup de grace in the shape of his third drop-goal.

The message could not have been clearer. Surviving the 'pool of death' without a scratch was no less than the mighty Argentinians had expected - they crave nothing less than total world domination. With Scotland up next, who would bet against them going all the way?

Man of the match: Ireland talisman Brian O'Driscoll finally showed his class and his absence from the play-offs is a blow for rugby-lovers the world over. Paul O'Connell also finally proved his worth, and Ronan O'Gara punctuated a difficult campaign with some merit. Meanwhile, the Argentinians were heroes to a man. Their greatest strength is their collective will, but - as always - a few individuals stood out. Gonzalo Longo and Rodrigo Roncero got through a heap of work, Felipe Contepomi added structure and the points, and Agustín Pichot once again proved himself to be a leader of rare ability. But our award goes to the ice-cool Juan Martín Hernández. The Scots will need to pin some great jailable crime on the immaculate pivot if they wish to return to Paris for a semi-final.

Moment of the match: Ireland's two tries were beautifully executed, but we'll opt for the build-up to Horacio Agulla's try. It was 'total rugby' at its very best.

Villain of the match: Perhaps a little too much shirt-pulling from the Argentinians, but we'll reserve judgement until we've studied the videos. No award - yet.

The scorers:

For Argentina:

Tries: Borges, Agulla

Con: Contempomi

Pens: Contempomi 3

Drop goals: Hernandez 3

For Ireland:

Tries: O'Driscoll, Murphy

Con: O'Gara

Pen: O'Gara

Argentina: 15 Ignacio Corleto, 14 Lucas Borges, 13 Manuel Contepomi, 12 Felipe Contepomi, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Agustín Pichot (c), 8 Gonzalo Longo, 7 Juan Martín Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Lucas Ostiglia, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Carlos Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, 3 Juan Martín Scelzo, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.

Replacements: 16 Alberto Vernet Basualdo, 17 Omar Hasan, 18 Rimas Álvarez Kairelis, 19 Martín Durand, 20 Nicolás Fernandez Miranda, 21 Federico Todeschini, 22 Hernán Senillosa.

Ireland:15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (c), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Denis Hickie, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 David Wallace, 6 Simon Easterby, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donnacha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Marcus Horan,

Replacement: 16 Rory Best, 17 Bryan Young, 18 Malcolm O'Kelly, 19 Neil Best, 20 Isaac Boss, 21 Paddy Wallace, 22 Gavin Duffy.

Referee: Paul Honiss (New Zealand)

Touch judges: Mark Lawrence (South Africa), Craig Joubert (South Africa)

Television match official: Christophe Berdos (France)

Assessor: Steve Hilditch

By Andy Jackson

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