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Thursday 8 December 2016

Pumas tear apart Ireland's world

Irish are mauled in record defeat against Argentina

A distraught Ian Madigan after Ireland’s quarter-final defeat
A distraught Ian Madigan after Ireland’s quarter-final defeat

Broken hearts don't heal easily, especially the sixth time around.

Once again, Ireland could not deliver a World Cup semi-final by bookending a brave performance with an abysmal start, which left them 17-0 down after 13 minutes, and a fading finish that saw them plummet to their worst loss to Argentina.

"We gave ourselves too much (to do) at the start," reflected captain Jamie Heaslip.

"Argentina play a very expansive game. They stretched us. We didn't make life easy on ourselves at times. We fought back. We came back in it. We got it back to three points.

"But they took their opportunities to kick on and we just couldn't take ours."

The tears streaming down the faces of the Argentineans when their national anthem was played hinted at an emotional peak they would either plant their flag of victory on or be sent tumbling back from where they came.

Sadly, it turned out to be the former as they went to the edges to unlock Ireland's defence.

Ominous

The signs were soon ominous as Los Pumas were winning the collisions while Ireland looked relatively benign in their intensity.

Madigan was out-fetched by full-back Tuculet for the third high ball and centre Matias Moroni had the wheels to find the right corner. Nicolas Sanchez clipped the conversion.

The first solace came from Jordi Murphy's pinch of the pill. Conor Murray's bomb didn't quite detonate.

Jamie Heaslip's shoulder shook the ball from Pablo Matera. The Irish were crushed at the first scrum in another box ticked for the Pumas.

Bad got worse, much worse, when the Pumas scorched down the right again and Santiago Cordero's kick was touched down by speed merchant Juan Imhoff. Tommy Bowe was down and stretchered off just before Sanchez made it 17-0 from a penalty in the 13th minute.

Prop Ramiro Herrera drove his shoulder late into Keith Earls to see yellow.

Madigan's range-finder was immaculate. Ireland couldn't maul it up well enough, but There was a penalty to compensate. Madigan struck for three.

This was immediately erased by Sanchez after Chris Henry's side entry into a ruck. The discipline was dissolving. Sanchez hit his next penalty in off an upright.

Then Murray stepped up, Heaslip carried forward, Rory Best twisted onwards. The ball was whipped left for Robbie Henshaw to open the way for replacement Luke Fitzgerald to skin the cover. Madigan's conversion made it a manageable 20-10 in the 27th minute.

Suddenly, there were positive signs of life. Healy exercised pressure at a scrum. Murray scavanged. Dave Kearney followed him.

Mike Ross screwed a penalty out of prop Marcos Ayerza. Madigan's kick hit the post. Iain Henderson forced a spill from Cordero. The Pumas held their ground to the break.

The South Americans came hunting for the killer blow. Chris Henry had the answer at the breakdown. That man Fitzgerald broke through the middle and found Jordi Murphy in support with a stunning offload for a thrilling try. Madigan's extras narrowed it down to 20-17 in the 44th minute.

Dave Kearney claimed the restart and brother Rob forced a scrum out of Leonardo Senatore in the air.

Ireland powered up the scrum for a penalty. The Pumas held out and countered through Imhoff and Cordero for Sanchez to strike for three.

Ireland were back for more. They poured forward in defence. There was uncertainty and an offside in retreat. Madigan nailed his shot.

Prop Ayerza lost his head at a ruck. Madigan could not quite draw his penalty in far enough in the 59th minute for what would have levelled matters.

It was all about the next score. Devin Toner took Cordero high. Sanchez eased Argentina six clear in the 64th minute.

Then, they churned out a penalty advantage and cleaned up for a superb try by full-back Joaquin Tuculet, Sanchez converting for a winning lead of 13.

The cherry on top of the semi-final cake came when Imhoff escaped from the grasp of Murray and Dave Kearney, Sanchez stitching on five points from the conversion and a late penalty.

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