Young guns impress in Ireland rout of Pumas
Ireland 46 Argentina 24
Ireland reacted to a potentially critical moment in Declan Kidney’s reign as coach by posting a record victory over feeble Argentina at the Aviva Stadium.
The seven-try rout of opposition that clearly had nothing left in the tank after a long year guarantees Ireland’s place among the second seeds for the 2015 World Cup draw.
It also concluded their five-Test losing streak – their worst sequence of results since 1998 – and relieved the pressure on under-fire Kidney.
A star was born in the shape of Ulster 21-year-old Craig Gilroy, who capped an outstanding Test debut with a brilliant finish for injury-depleted Ireland’s opening try.
Either by using slick footwork or bulldozing through tackles, Gilroy tormented Argentina throughout and was involved in the build-up of three more tries.
Jonathan Sexton crossed twice and skilfully directed a dynamic attacking display by Ireland that will have done his chances of becoming the Lions’ Test fly-half no harm.
Winger Tommy Bowe also finished with two tries and there were further touch downs for hooker Richardt Strauss and full-back Simon Zebo.
The scoreline surpassed Ireland’s previous best against Argentina – a 29-9 triumph at the same venue in 2010 – and represented one of their finest moments in one of Test rugby’s unlikeliest rivalries.
It was exactly the result and performance they needed after facing criticism for their collapse in their Guinness Series opener against South Africa.
The opening 90 seconds were little indication of what was to come as first Sexton’s kick-off failed to travel 10 yards and then they conceded a penalty at the breakdown.
An 11th-minute scrum provided the platform for Ireland to take the lead with Gilroy supplying the magic.
The 21-year-old came racing off his wing to take an inside pass from Sexton around the 22 and beat three defenders as he weaved a path to the whitewash.
It was proving a dream debut for Gilroy, who continued to break tackles before Ireland regrouped and redirected their assault down the left flank.
Centre Gordon D’Arcy passed back inside to Sexton and the Leinster fly-half showed strength as he broke two tackles to crash over.
Both conversions were landed by Sexton, but with Sanchez slotting two penalties, Argentina remained in touch.
The Pumas suffered a blow when Sanchez departed for the concussion bin and their situation deteriorated further when Ireland produced a third try.
Once more it came from the set piece with Strauss coming up with the ball following a line-out drive and touching down in the right corner.
For the first time Ireland came under serious pressure and they responded with Bowe and Zebo executing a try-saving tackle on scrum-half Martin Landajo.
Sanchez, who had returned after passing his concussion test, ensured the attack went rewarded by kicking his third penalty.
Ireland were soon back on the offensive, however, when Bowe caught a high kick to initiate a passage of play that ended when Sexton sent Zebo a missed pass with the Munster full-back diving over in the left corner.
When Sanchez landed his fourth penalty shortly after half-time, a Pumas comeback looked a possibility.
But those hopes were soon dashed as their scrum backpedalled furiously, presenting Sexton with a shot at goal that he steered between the uprights.
Argentina’s collapse continued unchecked as Ireland ran in two more tries in quick succession with Sexton heavily involved in both scores.
First the 27-year-old produced the chip kick that enabled Bowe to gather and touch down before finishing himself with Donnacha Ryan supplying the scoring pass.
Also playing a key role in the tries was the superb Gilroy, whose side-step and ability to break the first tackle set up the initial field position on both occasions.
Frustrated Argentina prop Maximiliano Bustos was sent to the sin bin for throwing the ball into the face of opposite number Cian Healy.
The final Irish try arrived when Bowe pounced on Keith Earls’ chip kick, but substitute Tomas Leonardi and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe scored late tries to give Argentina some respectability on the scoreboard.