Argentina 34 Ireland 23
IRELAND’S opening game of their three-Test tour of Argentina, 20 years ago, ended in an exasperating defeat against the Pumas, who were only together for the second time in seven months.
The countries had met in the fourth World Cup in France the previous October when the Pumas pulled off a shock 28-24 victory to reach the quarter-finals for the first time. It was the first World Cup in the professional era.
The visitors showed the effects of a gruelling season in the northern hemisphere and while they created enough chances to win two games, Ireland couldn’t apply the finishing touches.
On top of that Ireland coughed up possession far too easily and far too often for their own good while their ill-discipline also came back to haunt them.
Despite winning the try count 4-3, Ireland’s inability to turn kicks into points also frustrated their efforts in a sea of blue and white in the 25,000 crowd in the Ferrocarril Oeste Stadium in Buenos Aires.
David Humphreys, who got the nod over Ronan O’Gara for the number 10 jersey, had a dismal evening off the tee, unlike his direct opponent, Gonzalo Quesada, who kicked everything.
While Humphreys struggled in this department, the Argentine was almost flawless, contributing 19 points via five penalties and two conversions.
The Ulster player was one of three who limped off injured during the second-half as Munster pair, John Hayes and Anthony Foley, also had their evening cut short.
The disruption in the back-row certainly played a part in the closing quarter as Andy Ward was summoned from the bench with Simon Easterby diverting to number eight.
Argentina led 8-5 at half-time, claiming the opening try after 14 minutes only for Malcolm O’Kelly to reply in kind seven minutes later before a Quesada penalty nudged the Pumas in front again.
A couple of early second-half tries from Justin Bishop and Rob Henderson at last showed what Ireland were capable of producing even if the boot of Quesada was keeping the home side in touch.
Even though the tourists had bagged three tries to the Pumas’ one, the home out-half’s expert kicking left Ireland with only an 18-17 advantage entering the decisive closing quarter.
Argentina scrum-half Agustin Pichot was another hugely influential figure in a famous South American triumph and his clever sniping around the fringes and box kicks helped his side dictate the closing stages.
Quick-fire tries from Mendez and Bartulucci’s second in injury-time stunned Ireland, who were made to pay for their profligacy, especially as Quesada kept the scoreboard ticking along in the Pumas’ favour.
Time was now running out on Ireland, who still managed a fourth try courtesy of Bishop’s second of the evening, but it was only a consolation.
Team manager Brian O’Brien summed up Ireland’s frustration afterwards.
“We had the game in the palm of our hands, but just didn’t finish it off. We had chances to clean them out in the first-half, but didn’t finish them off.
“We had more chances in the second-half, but didn’t finish them off and then conceded silly scores,” he said.
IRELAND: P McKenna; S Horgan, R Henderson, K Maggs, J Bishop; D Humphreys, P Stringer; P Clohessy, K Wood, captain, J Hayes; M Galwey, M O’Kelly; S Easterby, A Foley, D Wallace.
Subs: A Ward for Foley 57, J Fitzpatrick for Hayes 64, R O’Gara for Humphreys 79, M Mullins for Horgan temp 37-40.