Ireland exit courtesy of powerful Pumas
September 30, 2007
Juan Martin Hernandez tackles Denis Hickie during a bruising pool decider at the Parc des Princes
© Getty Images
Ireland's beleaguered World Cup campaign was finally put out of its misery when Argentina sent them crashing out at the Parc des Princes.
Faced with a near-impossible task against the Pumas, Ireland became the second home nation to return home following Wales' dramatic exit.
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Tries from Brian O'Driscoll and Geordan Murphy gave them some hope but Argentina, hugely impressive once again, refused to loosen their stranglehold on the game.
The feared Pumas pack led their charge into the quarter-finals - as Pool D winners they now face Scotland in Paris - with first-half tries from Lucas Borges and Horacio Agulla doing the main damage on the scoreboard.
Felipe Contepomi booted 11 points while Juan Martin Hernandez weighed in with three drop goals and Argentina were every bit as superior as the final score suggests.
Ireland arrived in France with ambitions of reaching the quarter-finals but instead have failed to progress from the group stages for the first time.
Coach and players have been at a loss to explain the team's remarkably rapid decline but as against France, they were just not good enough against the Pumas.
Pool D was justifiably labelled the `group of death' but for what is widely viewed as the best Ireland squad of all time to be so far off the pace in qualifying for the last eight is astonishing.
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Ireland started at a ferocious pace, but after five minutes the fire and brimstone faded and Argentina were able to stamp their authority on the match.
O'Sullivan had insisted all week his side would not look to score early tries but when awarded an early penalty, O'Driscoll opted for touch even though the kick was well within O'Gara's range.
Their ambition failed to pay off as Argentina cleared their line and shortly after Ireland were under pressure following a mix-up between Brian O'Driscoll and Eoin Reddan.
Contepomi hacked a loose ball forward but was outstripped to the line by Leinster colleague Denis Hickie and Ireland were saved.
Argentina had survived the early onslaught and started to crank up the pressure on Ireland with a line-out catch and drive that swept them within five metres of the whitewash.
The breakthrough came at the ensuing scrum when Gonzalo Longo Elia peeled off the back and found Agustin Pichot who tied up Reddan and Simon Easterby before slipping the scoring pass to Borges.
Contepomi, who had missed an earlier penalty, was wide with the conversion but Hernandez landed drop goal to punish a loose clearance from O'Gara.
A simple penalty from O'Gara had stemmed the flow of Argentinian points but the ferocity with which Ireland had started the game was long gone.
Hernandez's influence was growing with a daring take and jinking run catching the eye, but a dubious penalty thrust Ireland back into contention.
The referee penalised Ignacio Corleto for using his shoulder on Murphy and Ireland opted for touch once again, setting the platform for O'Driscoll to score.
A flat pass from O'Gara did the damage but O'Driscoll still had work to do, skipping clear of Hernandez and a breaking a despairing tackle by Horacio Agulla to cross under the posts.
O'Gara converted but Argentina slipped back in front through a Hernandez drop goal - and then dealt another blow to Ireland's fading hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.
Agulla outjumped Murphy for a high ball and the Pumas broke into open space, producing quick ball which Hernandez spun left to Agulla who finished the move.
The tricky conversion was hit by Contepomi to put the Pumas 18-10 ahead at the interval and when the Leinster centre slotted another three points, Ireland looked dead and buried.
A 47th minute try from Murphy offered a lifeline, the Leicester full-back capitalising on Wallace's bulldozing work in the backline to finish in the corner.
The verbals between O'Gara and Contepomi against the opposition packs continued - bad blood from provincial and precious Ireland v Argentina matches remains - but the Pumas centre won the latest spat by slotting a penalty.
A high tackle by Donncha O'Callaghan on Contepomi gifted Argentina another three points and the last 15 minutes petered out as Ireland faced up to the realisation they were heading home.
Hernandez rubbed their noses in it a minute before the final whistle by landing his third drop goal and the green shirts trooped off the pitch, heads bowed.
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