Ireland grind it out as Pumas tamed
Argentina 17 - Ireland 29
Ireland arrived in Resistencia not knowing what to expect and returned to Buenos Aires last night not sure what to make of it all.
A first Test win in Argentina came with caveats and not just because the opposition provided in the northern city were more of a Pumas development squad, who caused Joe Schmidt's side more problems than even the local aficionados expected.
There was much to admire about the way the Six Nations champions went about their task, but there was also plenty to work on.
With some of the season's stalwarts rested and others injured, there were opportunities available to make a mark and though Jack McGrath grasped the chance with both hands, Luke Marshall added more doubt to his credentials after a defensively shaky day.
Ireland's lineout was good and their scrum better, while, when they attacked off both, they looked dangerous.
Their defence let them down against an unheralded, but dangerous Argentinian team, who possessed some real fizz behind the scrum.
There were impressive debuts for Robbie Diack and Kieran Marmion, stand-out moments from Simon Zebo and Johnny Sexton was excellent, but it all happened so far off the beaten track that it was difficult to discern whether it had been a good, bad or indifferent day at the office.
Schmidt appears to feel that Ireland would have been better off – like Wales, England and France – facing one of the big three 14 months out from the World Cup and this was also voiced by captain Paul O'Connell, who certainly seemed a bit jealous of Chris Robshaw and his side having three cracks at the All Blacks.
"You would love to have what England have in New Zealand. They followed the Six Nations up with a really big performance down there," O'Connell lamented.
"We didn't do that, but at the same time, it was a really tough game. For a few of the young guys and a few of the guys who got their first cap, it is good to come down to a place like this and get a real tough test and come through it."
It didn't look like being that tough at the start when Ireland started like a train, holding on to the ball and finding plenty of gaps in the home defence.
They should have been ahead by far more than 6-3 by the time Argentina struck for a stunning first try when down to 14 men after No 8 Benjamin Macome took Andrew Trimble out in the air.
Defence coach Les Kiss will not be happy with the concession of this try nor the missed first-up tackles that plagued the performance, while Schmidt will also be demanding improvement from his players when in possession.
Darren Cave (pictured) and Marshall made stunning line breaks, only to find no support on their shoulders; the otherwise excellent Diack ignored an overlap and Conor Murray went close, and thought he'd scored.
Instead, they had to make do with two Sexton penalties, while Nicolas Sanchez drew one back for Argentina before beating Marshall all ends up and feeding Manuel Montero to score.
It lifted the locals, but Ireland responded like the champions they are. Zebo caught Sexton's restart brilliantly before the Pumas pulled him back into a ruck at the next phase. O'Connell pointed to the corner, caught the line-out and the maul marched over, with Chris Henry touching down.
Sexton missed the conversion as Ireland led 11-10 at the break, but he capitalised on a brilliant Diack line-out steal to score the all-important second try two minutes after the interval following some excellent work from Marshall.
Still Argentina came, but Sanchez got overly ambitious and Trimble picked off his pass to run in the intercept from halfway and put the contest beyond doubt.
Ian Madigan, on for the injured Sexton, closed it out, while Cave put a foot in touch finishing off an outrageous piece of Zebo skill, before Tomás de la Vega pulled back a try in the closing stages for the hosts.
For Schmidt, there is work to be done in the review room.
"I'll look more forensically at the video and we'll be able to see a little bit more of the individual efforts," he said.
"There were a few guys who, at first glance, appeared to do a good job and other guys who did bits and pieces well, but will have things to work on."
Ireland returned to Buenos Aires for a break before moving to Tucuman, where they'll expect more in the second Test, both from themselves and their opponents.