Job done, but not especially well for Ireland. Without playing anywhere near the level they showed against New Zealand a week earlier, Ireland comfortably saw off Argentina’s poor challenge at a frozen Aviva stadium yesterday.
I doubt whether coach Declan Kidney learned a great deal from this scrappy, mediocre match. His men did what they had to do but, in truth, Argentina were so ordinary it is hard to judge the real worth of this performance.
At least Kidney is not kidding himself, judging from his post-match comment. “We are far from the finished product,” he said — and that said it all.
Ireland were desperately lucky to be on the right side of one of the worst refereeing performances of recent years. South African official Mark Lawrence made several completely wrong decisions, some of which cost Argentina key points on the scoreboard.
Lawrence’s blunders denied the Pumas one certain seven point score in just the ninth minute. The Irish pack was in headlong retreat a metre or two from its own line and seemingly certain to concede a penalty try. In desperation, the Irish forwards wheeled the scrum around, a clearly illegal act.
Bizarrely, Lawrence rewarded them with a penalty. It should have been a penalty try and Argentina looked dumbfounded, as well they might.
What followed was equally mystifying. An Irish forward illegally shoved the ball back in a ruck with his hand and, hey presto, his reward was a penalty to Ireland from which Jonathan Sexton kicked his first goal.
Soon after, with Irish tight head prop Tony Buckley already on his knees at a scrum, Lawrence gave Ireland another penalty. From that ensuing line-out, Ulster’s Stephen Ferris scored on the other side of the field. These completely wrong decisions by Lawrence turned the match on its head and knocked the belief out of the Pumas.
The one thing Argentina can do is scrummage. The one thing Ireland have been unable to do in recent times is scrummage with any sort of power, technique or authority. Yet here was Lawrence apparently telling us that black really is white and that Tony Buckley is the new Ray McLoughlin. As if.
Having said that, Ireland’s superiority was never in doubt. But Kidney will have been frustrated at the number of elementary mistakes made by his team.
Ireland have a lot more to offer than we saw here, but there was one other mitigating factor. This was their fourth consecutive match of the autumn series and minds and bodies will inevitably have been tired. It required considerable focus and concentration to get through, and at times those qualities understandably waned. Yet in patches, Ferris gave a performance which reminded us of the Pumas forwards at their very best four years ago. Trouble for them was Ferris was born in Portadown not on the Pampas.
Jamie Heaslip also did stirring work and Gordon D’Arcy had a good game capped by his last minute try.
It was a convincing victory but, as a whole, Ireland have to accept there should be a lot more to come from this team.