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Argentina 43 – Ireland 20

Argentina 43 – Ireland 20.

Oh God.  Do you even want to look at that scoreline? It’s harder than watching Dave Kearney’s dislocated finger being pulled back into shape. Aargh!

We got hammered and there’s no escaping it. We got trounced.  Argentina played us off the park, and all we can do is wish them well. They were fast, skilful and creative. They were better than us and that’s an end of it, or almost an end, provided we ask certain hard questions.

What went wrong for us?

Probably a combination of things. We were without our four best players in Paul O Connell, Peter O Mahony, Jonny Sexton and Sean O Brien. On top of that, we lost Tommy Bowe to injury after 12 minutes.  In losing O Connell, we didn’t just shed a great second-row, but also a leader who reads the game, organises the players, allocates resources where they’re needed and sets priorities. This is not the sort of contribution we see on the ball or on the television, but that’s how important Paul O Connell is to Ireland.  We lost a field marshal.

As if that wasn’t enough, in Peter O Mahony we lost a fighting general, a man willing to throw himself into the battle with no thought for his own safety while leading his men at the same time.

And of course in Jonny Sexton we lost our tactician, the man who, by an intervention here or there, decides the shape of the battle and ultimately its outcome.

In Seán O Brien, we lost the ultimate foot-soldier through his own indiscipline against France, but still the sort of hand-to-hand fighter we needed to win this war of attrition.

People will say that we lay down under the Argentinean onslaught but of course that’s untrue. Certainly in the first half hour, it looked as though they were going to destroy us but gradually Ireland fought their way back into the game and by the time we reached the final ten minutes, the struggle could have gone either way.

Did Joe Schmidt use his bench to best effect? I don’t know, but I’m at a loss to understand why he didn’t use Simon Zebo as a means of prising open the Argentinean defence.

For me, the decisive moment came when referee Jerome Garces cut off his television official in mid-sentence, choosing to ignore the second half of the advice he was receiving. It happened when tighthead Ramiro Herrera was in danger of receiving a second yellow card for charging. The question to the judge was whether Herrera had used his hands in attacking the ruck, and the TMO’s response was nuanced — He used his left arm going into the ruck but he used —

At that point, Garces cut him off, deciding not to award a second yellow card and therefore a sending-off.

I think that if Garces had allowed his TMO to continue explaining what he saw on the video, he would have been told that Herrera had charged an Irish player for a second time and he would have had no option but to give the prop a red card. It seems to me that Garces did not want to be faced with that possibility and therefore took the easy option. That’s just my opinion, but I think the decision decided the outcome of the match at a time when Ireland were beginning to impose themselves on the opposition.

Naturally, of course, we can’t begrudge the Argentineans their win, especially with their extraordinary running around the outside. Buffalo Gals rugby if ever we saw it, but at the same time, rugby is a game of rules and today, the referee didn’t necessarily follow them as he should have.

Were they better than us? Certainly.

Does that make them worthy winners? Only if they won legally.

Did they win legally? I think the referee made some crucially-important mistakes.

That’s all. They showed the sort of flair, panache and élan that the French could only dream of in their most extravagantly Gallic days of inspiration and what’s more they demonstrated a new Southern-hemisphere insouciance, a lack of fear, the sort of casual confidence that might allow them to trample over any opposition.

Could Ireland have beaten Argentina if they had their full complement of players? I don’t know. Argentina have grown into a serious rugby power and for all we know, they could go on to win this Rugby World Cup  though one suspects not. After their demolition of France, New Zealand look like the team that has it all.

But still, Ireland lost to a worthy victor. Northern hemisphere countries have a bit of thinking to do.