Pumas upset the odds against Ireland
October 20, 1999
Ireland's Conor O'Shea tries to make some headway against Argentina
© PA Photos
Argentina knocked Ireland out of the 1999 World Cup in a match dominated by two strong packs of forwards and the boots of their respective fly halves. Diego Albanese's 72nd minute try, the result of a rare running movement by either side, sent Argentina through to a quarter-final against France, and Ireland home to lick their wounds.
Ireland were favourites to win and confident, as evidenced by their resting of lock Paddy Johns and prop Peter Clohessy. Hooker Keith Wood went on record before the game, "We will win," he said. "The lads are recovered, there are no serious injuries, we are ready."
There was extra spice as both sides were coached by New Zealanders, Alex "Grizz" Wyllie for Argentina, Warren Gatland with Ireland. Gatland under-estimated the Puma challenge, suggesting their pack was overrated. "We have one of the better scrums in the World Cup and we will be looking to dominate them. I don't believe the Argentina scrum is as strong as it was ten to 12 years ago," he said.
Wyllie acknowledged that the forward battle would decide the game, accepting that Argentina's backs were not world beaters. "We'd like to play more open rugby, but in the end you've got to play to your strengths." Ironic then, that ultimately the deadlock was broken by a well executed right to left passing move through the three-quarters bringing about Albanese's try.
The first half was little more than a kicking clinic. Ireland opted for a tight game-plan of kicking. It might have worked, but time and again they lost concentration and conceded penalties. Whistle-happy referee Stuart Dickinson saw to it that both number 10's had plenty of opportunity to show their prowess with the boot. By the ten minute mark, David Humphreys had out-kicked Gonzalo Quesada by three penalties to one. Both men missed drop goal attempts, but two more penalties each before half time saw Ireland turn round with a six point advantage.
It was dour stuff. Even Keith Wood, the man Ireland often looked to for inspiration, could make no impact with his trademark charges at his opponents. An uncharacteristic chip ahead, as he filled in at scrum-half, also came to nothing.
Dickinson continued to award the penalties, Humphreys and Quesada matched each other until Ireland led 24-18 with 15 minutes remaining.
Finally, Argentina started to run the ball and the match came to life. Ireland's defence was stretched too far when Albanese went over in the left corner, narrowing the margin to one point. Quesada stepped up to curl the touch line conversion just inside the right-hand post, giving Argentina the lead for the first time in the match.
Argentina celebrate their win over Ireland © PA Photos
Quesada seemed to have clinched the game with his seventh penalty, one minute from the end of normal time, but nine minutes of injury time were to be played, during which time Ireland ruthlessly hammered at the Argentina defence in search of a try at last. By now they were running their penalties, the three point option from Humphreys' boot being insufficient to put them back in front.
It was a taste of what might have made the game more of a spectacle had either side shown greater endeavour earlier. Ireland's desperate efforts included a 14-man lineout, but the Pumas defence was heroically solid and, ultimately, Humphreys' 100 per cent kicking performance was not enough. Paul Wallace was within inches of burrowing over the try line when Dickinson blew his tired whistle for the last time.
Wyllie was justifiably proud. "Not many people thought Argentina would do well. If the teams had been seeded, then Samoa and Ireland would have been in front of us, and we beat them both." For Gatland, who had never played an international for the All Blacks while Wyllie was their coach, this was another shortcoming.
Argentina marched into a quarter-final in Dublin, where France found their feet for the first time in the tournament, beating them 47-26. Ireland v Argentina matches have been notoriously feisty since 1999, the teams meeting again in the Rugby World Cups in 2003 and 2007, with one win apiece.
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