A first-half of pure class contrasted heavily with an uneventful second half as Ireland brought the Autumn internationals to a close as Ireland defeated Argentina 29-9 at the Aviva, Dublin. Captain Brian O'Driscoll admitted during the week that "all previous games (against Argentina) tended not to be things of beauty", but early on it looked as if todays game may have been the exception to the rule.
After the game Ireland coach Declan Kidney told of his concern for O'Driscoll who had gone for an X-ray with a possible crack in his jaw. "If its just a crack he might avoid surgery and a plate," said Kindey afterwards of his captain, who tried to play through the injury before the med said he needed to come off. The win brought Ireland's record to won two, lost two for the series, and looking back Kidney sees the positives of the last month.
"One of our goals in this month was obviously to win ever match - we didn't. We came up short in two so we have to take a serious look at that. Another was to build a squad and we have been doing that. Today was a good sign for us because you can build all you like at training but they need to go out and prove it to themselves that they can win a tough game.
For much of the opening exchanges Argentina were camped inside the Irish 22, but the Irish resolute defense held firm and a lightning break from Gordan D'Arcy, after Ireland stole the ball from the ruck, threatened carved open the Argentine defense, but his kick for the corner gave Argentina the chance to clear to touch.
An impressive passing interchange between Geordan Murphy, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble led to the opening score with Jonathan Sexton kicking a 13th minute penalty, 3-0.
"Ireland played a really good first half and we didn't score in the moments we had to," said Argentine captain Felipe Contepomi afterwards. "There were crucial moments that maybe would have led us to start well the game. We didn't do so I think (the game) was lost there. Ireland broke us a few times and scored a try and its hard when you chase a team nearly 20 points behind."
Following the penalty Argentina drove forward but a Marcelo Bosch drop goal attempt sailed wide and the Argentines couldn't get a score for all their possession. Then came the break for Ireland on 19 minutes, as a period of Irish pressure gave Stephen Ferris the opportunity to glide over in the corner.
When the ball came back from a ruck inside the Argentine 22 under the posts Tommy Bowe drew the tackle before offloading to Jamie Heaslip who in turn found Ferris. After Sexton converted, to make it 10-0, former Leinster man Contepomi missed a penalty as Argentina failed to register a score that would drive Argentina forward.
Another Sexton penalty underneath the posts added to Ireland's lead, 13-0 on 28 minutes, before Contepomi finally put Argentina on the board with a penalty, 13-3. From the restart Trimble managed to claw the ball back from play before O'Driscoll gathered the ball on the Irish side.
Their hard work led to another successfully converted Sexton penalty, 16-3 and as Argentine discipline faltered, Sexton was gifted another chance, which he took, to stretch Ireland's lead further before half-time, 19-3. With the end of the half came the end of a vintage Irish performance and one that Kidney touched on.
"The first half we were good and positive when we had the ball. We put challenges to them - we attacked them on both flanks. When we got into their half we managed to take scores most times when we got into their 22. There was a point early on where they mauled up from the 22 to the goal line. It turned out to be a pivotal point because we managed to stop them," said Kidney after the game.
While neither side got into any rhythm as a rather dull second half unfolded, Contepomi continued where he left off in the first half. He missed another penalty on 47 minutes, but added his second from five attempts, on 57 minutes to close the gap to 19-6.
In a scrappy second half, Ireland got their first score of the half when Sexton split the posts with a 50 metre kick, and Kidney brought on Damien Varley, Tom Court and Denis Leamy to reinforce the forward line. Contepomi clawed Argentina to within 13 points with another penalty but it always felt like Ireland kept some in reserve. Ronan O'Gara and Keith Earls, Devin Toner and Eoin Reddan were all sprung from the bench, as Ireland failed to to live up to their first half performance.
In the dying moments Keith Earls looked like he had given Ireland something to cheer about when he touched down in the corner but the TMO adjudged (wrongly it seemed from replays) that the Munster back knocked on.
But Ireland were not to be denied and when they turned the ball over from the resulting scrum, Eoin Reddan put the ball back to D'Arcy who collected his own chip over the top to score. O'Gara added the conversion and while the players return to their provinces, on the national level, Ireland now enter a very important Six Nations competition before next years World Cup.