Juan Imhoff scored two tries as Argentina saw off a tenacious fightback from Ireland to clinch a 43-20 win in Sunday’s quarter-final in Cardiff. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
The Pumas have repeated their heroics of 2007: they will feature in the semi-finals of this World Cup. There can be no complaints, Argentina have come so far in recent times, and they’ve been quite sublime for large parts of this campaign.
Their start to Sunday’s quarter-final was undoubtedly some of the best rugby they’ve played as they roared to a 17-0 lead, and although Ireland fought back bravely and reduced the deficit to just three points early in the second half, Argentina were never behind on the scoreboard.
Flyhalf Nicolas Sanchéz slotted five important penalties after converting two stunning early tries, and it was always enough to keep the Pumas’ noses in front, while fullback Joaquin Tuculet and Imhoff then scored late tries to seal an entirely deserved victory.
Argentina made a storming start to the match when some beautiful handling put centre Matias Moroni away for a well-worked try, as early as the third minute.
Not even 10 minutes later the Pumas were at it again, this time Santiago Cordero dabbing a well-weighted kick into the in-goal area, with Imhoff collecting the ball and dotting down to leave Ireland completely shell-shocked.
The two conversions and a 13th-minute penalty from Sanchéz took Argentina into a commanding 17-0 lead, and despite the fact not even a quarter of the match had been played, there was a real sense that Ireland needed to be the next to score.
Ireland had suffered a blow the day before the match when flyhalf Johnny Sexton was forced to withdraw from the team due to an adductor strain, and then winger Tommy Bowe had to be stretchered from the field with what looked to be a knee injury after just 12 minutes of game time.
However, the Irish would be handed a lifeline when Pumas prop Ramiro Herrera was yellow-carded for a cynical off-the-ball shoulder charge, and it proved to be a moment that allowed for a momentum shift midway through the half.
Ian Madigan and Sanchéz would trade a penalty each before Ireland made their numbers advantage count as Bowe’s replacement, Luke Fitzgerald, found himself in space on the left touchline, and the fleet-footed back showed a clean pair of heels to dart over unopposed.
It was a score that kept Ireland in the hunt as the deficit was cut to 10 points, with the Pumas only just hanging onto their 20-10 lead as the teams headed into half-time.
Although Argentina had made 308 attacking metres to just 185 from Ireland in the opening stanza, the team in green did actually manage to shift the territorial and possession stats back in their favour before the break.
And five minutes after the restart they were right back in the match, with Fitzgerald again emerging as their talisman as he burst through the Argentine defence and put flank Jordi Murphy away for a simple try.
Suddenly there were just three points in it, and Ireland would have briefly believed that a historic comeback could become a reality. Yet after Sanchéz and Madigan each knocked over a penalty before the hour mark, the latter crucially missed a 60th-minute attempt at goal that could have drawn the scores level.
Sanchéz would make him pay when he slotted his fourth penalty just a few moments later, which importantly took Argentina out to a six-point lead, while Tuculet then produced a moment of brilliance to score a superb solo try and effectively seal the result with 10 minutes left to play.
Imhoff made the scoreline look even more one-sided with a breakout try soon after, while Sanchéz would add one final penalty for good measure.
Argentina – Tries: Matias Moroni, Juan Imhoff (2), Joaquin Tuculet. Conversions: Nicolas Sanchéz (4). Penalties: Sanchéz (5).
Ireland – Tries: Luke Fitzgerald, Jordi Murphy. Conversions: Ian Madigan (2). Penalties: Madigan (2).
Argentina – 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchéz, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Facundo Isa, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Chris Henry, 6 Jordi Murphy, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Nathan White, Matias Moroni, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Luke Fitzgerald.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images