Planet Rugby

Ireland control heat to stay in pot two

22nd November 2008 16:40

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Ireland v Argentina fight 2008

Regular occurrence: The packs come to blows

Ireland shrugged off both factors of a tournament three years away and also the grunt of Argentina to seal their spot in rugby's second tier as they prevailed 17-3 at Croke Park on Saturday.

It was a low-scoring affair that had very little excitement and panache, but what it lacked in tries this clash made up for in nail-biting subplots and heat between these tempestuous rivals.

Wanted or not, the International Rugby Board's new qualification points system for Rugby World Cup 2011 was simmering under the surface. Add to that pot a dash of Pool history and regularity of fixtures between these two and the Test promised and delivered plenty of spice.

However, in a low-scoring affair it was the boot of Ronan O'Gara and a late try from wing Tommy Bowe which claimed victory for Declan Kidney's side in Dublin.

The Pumas, who were without the experience of injured goal-kicking centre Felipe Contepomi, suffered further woe just minutes before kick-off as talisman Juan Martín Hernández pulled out with a groin problem - excuse the cliché but was the luck with Ireland?

Replaced by the similarly named Santiago Fernandez, the 22-year-old fly-half seemed desperate to grab his opportunity with both hands as he scooped a nervous looking drop-goal high, but not handsome, short of the posts before a scuffle developed on eight minutes.

That attempt was as good as it got for the spectators as Argentina continued with their fractured autumn kicking show, which ultimately hurt their general attacking effort. That is not to say Ireland weren't following a similar style with the boot as the early stadium atmosphere that had set alight the All Blacks' visit seven days ago seemed so far away.

Of course, the game was always going to be played out in a knockout manner as both had RWC fate in their own hands. So it was no surprise that any form of score was going to be hard to come by with O'Gara's missed penalty goal on 24 minutes the only highlight as Ireland enjoyed the lion's share of possession.

Talking of Lions and the return to the green jersey of full-back Geordan Murphy was one major plus for Ireland in the opening stages as he was faultless under the high ball and with clearing efforts.

However, as the game moved over half-an-hour there still remained very little intent from either side until Fernandez, who plays his rugby for the Hindu club, managed to send over a penalty to finally trouble the scorers.

That mini joy was short-lived for the Pumas though, as O'Gara also found his range just a minute before the interval with Ireland going in with slightly the upper hand - a welcome ten-minute break as one sensed both countries were somewhat paralysed by the IRB pressure.

Upon their return and Santiago Phelan's men stumbled across an immediate opportunity to edge themselves ahead again from the tee, but Fernandez was off-target. And as in the first half, Munster general O'Gara responded with three points of his own to push the Irish 6-3 in front, keeping them in the vital top eight.

Elsewhere, second tier rivals to Ireland, Scotland, were enjoying a stroll against Canada that added further cement to the hosts being in control of their own destiny.

But still there remained a lack of risk or intent from either side.

That was until a period of sustained Irish pressure and territory seemed to have lifted the cloud of off-the-field subplots. A further O'Gara drop-goal put some daylight between the two sides and although only a six-point cushion, it was to prove hefty in such a game. And when the fly-half added a further three points before finding Bowe on the wing for the game's only try, the game was sealed.

In typical fashion, however, there were fireworks right up until the final whistle as the Pumas seemingly took turns in gauding a fired up O'Gara. Prop Roncero was the man to pay the price though, as he led with an fist when taking contact before back-chat saw him sent from the field.

Man of the match: No-one stood out in Dublin in what was a cagey affair but against a feared pack the strength and experience of John Hayes did not go unnoticed.

Moment of the match: Nothing to note in the 80 minutes at all at Croke Park. Therefore, the pre-game loss of Puma fly-half Juan Martín Hernández as his swagger and direction may have altered where the result eventually ended up.

Villain of the match: The air under which this game was played maybe? One could see and sense the nervousness on the faces of both sides during the contest and the ramifications of what could materialise ahead of a tournament that takes place three years into the future.

The scorers:

For Ireland:

Tries: Bowe

Pen: O'Gara 3

Drop: O'Gara

For Argentina:

Pen: Fernandez

Yellow card: Roncero (Argentina) - verbal to assistant referee on 80 minutes

Ireland: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (c), 12 Luke Fitzgerald, 11 Robert Kearney, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Marcus Horan.

Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Malcolm O'Kelly, 19 A.N. Other, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Paddy Wallace, 22 Keith Earls.

Argentina: 15 Horacio Agulla, 14 Francisco Leonelli, 13 Federico Martin Aramburu, 12 Miguel Avramovic, 11 Rafael Carballo, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Nicolas Vergallo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (c), 6 Martin Durand, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Rimas Alvarez Kairelis, 3 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.

Replacements: 16 Alberto Vernet Basualdo, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Esteban Lozada, 19 Alvaro Galindo, 20 Agustin Figuerola, 21 Santiago Fernandez, 22 Bernardo Stortoni.

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)

Touch judges: Mark Lawrence (South Africa), Rob Debney (England)

Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)

Assessor: Steve Hilditch (Ireland)

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