First, Argentina had inflicted the most devastating defeat on the Irish in recent years when they won a crucial World Cup playoff in 1999. That setback precipitated the downfall of coach Warren Gatland and, to increase the pain, there was a second Argentine victory in Buenos Aires two summers ago.
So, if retribution was a large part of this latest test match, there was also the not inconsiderable backdrop that the two countries happen to be paired in the same qualifying group at next year’s World Cup in Australia.
Much was at stake then last Saturday at Lansdowne Road and the result turned out to be one that gave coach Eddie O’Sullivan and his players much satisfaction. It was not vintage rugby by any means, not in the atrocious conditions that reduced an already dubious pitch to a quagmire. In fact, one spectator was heard to comment that the IRFU had in fact got good value from their $400,000 investment in a new playing surface as they had created the first 100-meter swimming pool in the country for a knockdown price.
Amid much recriminations about the shameful pitch, the IRFU continued to defend its corner by blaming the unusually high levels of rainfall over the last two months. The Argentines were certainly not shy with their criticism as coach Marcelo Loffreda addressed his remarks directly to the administrators. “You must do something with the pitch,” he said. “It was terrible, for the players, the spectators and for the TV. I think Ireland were like fish in the water, but not us — we’re earth animals.”
Without doubt, the playing surface was an embarrassment notwithstanding the torrential rain. At one stage during the halftime interval, there was some speculation that the game might have to be abandoned. However, Loffreda’s swipe at the pitch missed one key point. Traditionally, Argentina, with its powerful forwards, would have adapted better to the conditions than the Irish.
This time it was Ireland who controlled matters for the most part. Malcolm O’Kelly secured an impressive amount of line-out ball, and hooker Shane Byrne, standing in for the injured Keith Woods, threw superbly in the wind and rain. Elsewhere, Ireland were secured in defense and Ronan O’Gara landed four kicks out of four attempts which given the conditions was another outstanding achievement.
“Conditions were always going to make it a forward-orientated game, which might have been a concern given the stature of the Argentinian pack,” O’Sullivan said. “So we concentrated beforehand on not letting them get their driving game going. It was a simple game plan but probably the only one that was going to work in the conditions.”
With Victor Costello and scrum-half Peter Stringer once again particularly impressive, the Irish were soon 7-0 ahead following a Girvan Dempsey try, which O’Gara converted. Just when they were looking to build on that advantage, Argentina hit back when Shane Horgan’s lack of a concentration led to Rolando Martin strolling over for a soft try and Felipe Contepomi added the extra points.
To Ireland’s credit, that was there only slip-up. The loss of second row Gary Longwell, after a challenge by Mario Ledesma that should have led to a yellow card, wasn’t too serious, as replacement Leo Cullen filled in seamlessly. O’Gara kicked a penalty to make it 10-7 at the interval, and then added two more during the second half as Irish dominance continued.
The victory means that O’Sullivan’s side are unbeaten in six games since the start of the season. Even if three of those successes have come against unrated Romania, Georgia and Russia, the defeat of Australia and now this result against Argentina augur well for next year’s Six Nations championship.
Ireland: G. Dempsey; S. Horgan, B. O’Driscoll (capt.), K. Maggs, J. Bishop; R. O’Gara, P. Stringer; R. Corrigan, S. Byrne, J. Hayes, G. Longwell, M. O’Kelly, V. Costello, K. Gleeson, A. Foley. Subs: L. Cullen for Longwell, 29 mins.; A Quinlan for Costello, 73 mins.; M. Horan for Corrigan, 75 mins.