Declan Kidney earned some precious credit in the bank as Ireland saw off Argentina thanks to a virtuoso display from fly-half Jonny Sexton. The result secured the hosts' place in the top eight of the IRB world rankings, thus ensuring Ireland will be a second seed when the draw for the 2015 World Cup is made in London on 3 December.
But whether this was enough to convince the power brokers in the IRFU to extend the under-pressure Kidney's contract beyond May 2013 remains to be seen.
Over the past decade, the mesmeric talents of Brian O'Driscoll and Felipe Contepomi have tried and failed to cast their spells on this fixture, so you wondered what chance the new breed had of injecting some fizz where previously only spite and rancour had dominated. Enter Sexton. The stand-off has dominated Europe for his province because of Leinster's proficiency at creating speedy, front-foot ball. With Argentina anaemic at the breakdown, Sexton got the momentum he craves and was the architect of three tries while claiming two himself.
After 12 minutes he supplied Ulster winger Craig Gilroy, who stepped past three defenders inside the 22 off an Irish maul. It continued his run of scoring on debut (for Dungannon, Ulster and Ireland in last weekend's uncapped romp over Fiji). It was a lethal display of the 20-year-old's natural finishing and not the first time he had crossed the whitewash at this venue – Gilroy scored the first try recorded at Aviva Stadium in an Under-20 game in July 2010.
Argentina replied immediately with a Nicolas Sanchez penalty, as they would after Sexton barged over for his first thanks to Gordon D'Arcy's hard work on 20 minutes, but Richardt Strauss then scored off a five-metre lineout to make it 19-6.
With a quarter of the match played, the game was finished as a contest. The Pumas' solitary flicker came off an intelligent break by Sanchez which was pounced upon by his half-back partner Martin Landajo who was hauled down by the Irish cover defence just metres in front of the posts.
However, despite having the numbers wide right, a kick at goal was all they could gather after Conor Murray was pinged for offside. What use three points was when they were trailing by 13 is anybody's guess.
They paid the price for their conservatism in the 33rd minute when Simon Zebo claimed his first try for Ireland after a neat cut-out pass from Sexton in the corner. The fly-half was in a good rhythm yesterday and his high ball, that Tommy Bowe claimed superbly, started the move as the 27-year-old continued to display a maturity that has not always been to the fore in a green shirt.
So it continued in the second half when his chip ahead had enough hang time to allow Bowe to collect and score in one diving motion for the fifth try. Then it was Sexton who grabbed the sixth thanks to D'Arcy and Donnacha Ryan. Having hit the post twice from conversion attempts, the Leinster playmaker made no mistake from this effort and, before an hour had elapsed, Ireland led 39-12. Bowe earned his brace in the final minutes after Manuel Montero's clumsy effort to clean up a grubber from Keith Earls before Tomas Leonardi and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe put some polish on the scoreline for Argentina.
Ireland: S Zebo (Munster); T Bowe (Ulster), K Earls (Munster), G D'Arcy (Leinster), C Gilroy (Ulster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Strauss (Leinster), M Ross (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster), M McCarthy (Connacht), P O'Mahony (Munster), C Henry (Ulster), J Heaslip (Leinster, capt). Replacements: D O'Callaghan (Munster) for McCarthy, 63; M Bent (Leinster) for Ross, 68; I Henderson (Ulster) for O'Mahony, 72; E Reddan (Leinster) for Murray, 72; R O'Gara (Munster) for Sexton, 72; S Cronin (Leinster) for Strauss, 74; D Kilcoyne (Munster) for Healy, 74; F McFadden (Leinster) for Bowe, 74.
Argentina: J M Hernandez (Racing Metro); G Camacho (Exeter Chiefs), M Bosch (Biarritz), S Fernandez (Montpellier), J Imhoff (Racing Metro); N Sanchez (Bordeaux Begles), M Landajo (Club Atlético San Isidro); M Ayerza (Leicester), E Guinazu (Southern Kings), M Bustos (Montpellier), M Carizza (Racing Metro), JF Cabello (Tucuman), JM Fernandez Lobbe (Toulon, capt), JM Leguizamon (Lyon), L Senatore (Rosario). Replacements: T Leonardi (SIC) for Senatore, 54; M Montero (Purcura) for Imhoff, 55; A Creevy (Montpellier) for Guinazu, 57; G Tiesi (SIC) for Sanchez, 61; N Lobo (Montpellier) for Ayerza, 69; N Vergallo (Toulouse) for Landajo, 69; T Vallejos (Scarlets) for Cabello, 77.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa).
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