Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admitted that his under-strength side lacked the necessary nous and knowhow to overcome a wily Argentina after the Pumas wrecked their chances of a first ever World Cup semi-final berth yesterday.
An early blitz and tries from centre Matias Moroni and wing Juan Imhoff saw Argentina surge into a 17-0 lead, which was cut to 20-10 at half-time courtesy of Luke Fitzgerald, who had replaced knee injury-victim Tommy Bowe.
Flanker Jordi Murphy touched down to reduce the deficit to just three points, only for full-back Joaquin Tuculet and Imhoff to seal victory with two late tries, while fly-half Nicolas Sanchez kicked 23 points to assume the mantle of the tournament’s leading scorer.
The Six Nations champions were without skipper Paul O’Connell, fly-half Johnny Sexton, flankers Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien and Jared Payne due to injury and suspension, which left Ireland short of street-wise and battle-hardened competitors according to Schmidt.
“It was a performance that the players will learn from,” said Schmidt. “There were a lot of players who have never been in a match of that intensity and hopefully that experience will offer something in the future. Certainly the dressing room was disappointed.
“They [Argentina] made the most of two chances early in the game and building that scoreboard pressure allowed them a real lift in confidence and probably dented the confidence of our group, some of who were certainly not overawed, although it was a very big occasion.
“You cannot afford to give a team a head start like that and at 23-20 we even had a position in their 22 and worked an overlap that we didn’t go to. It’s probably a little bit of a lack of experience and that’s frustrating.”
Victory was Argentina’s first over Ireland since the 2007 World Cup in France, but their third in four tournament matches, and means the Pumas reached the semi-finals for the second time in their history.
Their first appearance in the last four came eight years ago when their game was largely based on physicality and power, although their coach Daniel Hourcade insists his charges have evolved into a more enterprising unit over time.
“Since 2012 [the start of the Rugby Championship with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa] we started changing, we started building,” he said.
“It’s not something that has just started, it goes a long way back. But since that moment it was even more important. Playing the best on a yearly basis requires a level of perfection that makes you get used to it.
“This kind of game becomes normal, plus we like it. This is how we feel about it and the players like carrying it through.”