Scorers: Ireland: Pens: O'Gara 5; Drops: O'Gara 2Argentina: Try: Aramburu; Con: F Contepomi; Pens: F Contepomi 4
The perfect 10? Ronan O'Gara went very close to it on Saturday, as his seven successes with the right boot, including a dramatic last minute drop goal, saw Argentina downed 21-19 at Lansdowne Road.
Eddie O'Sullivan's side ended 2004 on a winning note, but perhaps not in the manner that was hoped for. Doughty Argentina, fuelled by their bruising forward unit, sought a second Six Nations scalp in the space of a week and almost got their wish as Federic Martin Aramburu's fifth minute try garnered a 10-0 lead for the visitors.
They managed to lead for a full 76 minutes, but a third win in seven meetings with Ireland was dashed at the death.
Although on the back foot for much of the first half, Ireland kept in the hunt with O'Gara's boot punishing Argentine indiscipline. Leinster's Felipe Contepomi quickly replied twice after O'Gara strikes on 34 and 46 minutes, but however measured Contepomi's line-kicking into the wind was after the break, a gutsy Ireland rebounded from a 16-6 half time deficit to claim victory.
Almost 32 minutes of the second half were spent in Pumas' territory, that alone tells you the strength of Ireland's attack. Still, with the Argentine line intact - Brian O'Driscoll going the closest to prying their rearguard open on 51 minutes - O'Gara held his nerve and poise to drill over four second half penalties in all, and the decisive hammer blow drop from 40 metres.
27-year-old O'Gara's start to the season has been impressive - by any standards. Seven games started for both Munster and Ireland, 89 points scored - including his Bok-busting try of two weeks ago.
His importance to the current Irish set-up is only underlined when looking at Ireland's scoring over their ten 2004 internationals. It also indicates his willingness to seek out a drop goal opportunity - having now dropped five goals in his last four Test starts.
Of Ireland's 200 points in the nine matches that O'Gara has appeared in this year, the Cork man has accounted for 103 points - 2 tries, twelve conversions, eighteen penalties and five drops.
An excellent footing to keep him in Sir Clive Woodward's thoughts until his British and Irish Lions squad begin their New Zealand assault against the Bay of Plenty on June 4th next year.
Still riling from their 16-15 World Cup Pool A defeat thirteen months ago, Argentina hit the ground running and Contepomi punished his provincial colleague Malcolm O'Kelly - on his 68th Test appearance - for a late tackle with a third minute penalty. Contepomi and Martin Durand grappled turnover ball away from Shane Horgan two minutes later to set the former's twin brother Manuel Contepomi racing towards the Irish '22. He skilfully avoided O'Driscoll's grasp to send Aramburu scampering under the posts for his fifth try in seven internationals.
Contepomi duly converted, quickly followed by O'Gara's ninth minute drop. 10-3 down, the Munster star jabbed a second drop wide before Contepomi drew Marcelo Loffreda's charges further in front with a 30-metre penalty two minutes later. O'Gara was at the heart of Ireland's first concerted attack on 20 minutes when his kick was bundled into touch by Durand just five metres from the Pumas' line.
O'Kelly's take set up Paul O'Connell for a pop at the line, but rugged defence from the visitors saw him kept out and Contepomi staved off O'Gara's close range dart also.
A Johnny O'Connor broken field run saw O'Gara reduce arrears with his first penalty six minutes before the break, but a ruck infringement offered Contepomi what looked like a crucial penalty chance in injury time, which he duly took.
Both number 10s swapped penalties early in the second half and still ten points in front, full back Juan Martin Hernandez produced a try-saving challenge on O'Driscoll after the Leinster centre had targeted lock Rimas Alvarez for the gap with a half-hour remaining. With the supporting Horgan just a pass away on the right, it looked to be a pivotal moment.
But the Irish pack were coming more into their own - securing prized ball in dangerous areas and forcing the South Americans to run up their tally of missed tackles to 17.
Another ruck error saw O'Gara gifted a third penalty, then a fourth on 67 minutes as Ireland drew back to just 19-15 down. With no try in sight, O'Sullivan's charges failed to panic and were rewarded as first, Argentine number eight Gonzalo Longo was yellow carded by referee Tony Spreadbury for repeat offending - this time pulling down a lineout - on 72 minutes, and then O'Gara slotted over the resultant right-sided kick.
His moment of magic with 67 seconds left on the watch saw Ireland maintain a seven-game unbeaten run at Lansdowne, rewarding a stoic home effort, high on graft and guts.
Argentina's unfortunate prize is a date with a resurgent South Africa next Saturday in Buenos Aires.
IRELAND: G Dempsey; G Murphy, B O'Driscoll (Capt), S Horgan, D Hickie; R O'Gara, P Stringer; R Corrigan, S Byrne, J Hayes, M O'Kelly, P O'Connell, S Easterby, J O'Connor, A Foley.Replacements: F Sheahan, M Horan, D O'Callaghan, E Miller, G Easterby, D Humphreys, K Maggs.Sub used: E Miller for O'Connor (65 mins)
ARGENTINA: JM Hernandez; L Borges, FM Aramburu, M Contepomi, H Senillosa; F Contepomi, A Pichot (Capt); R Roncero, M Ledesma, O Hasan, R Alvarez, P Albacete, M Durand, L Ostiglia, G Longo.Replacements: F Mendez, E Guiqazu, P Bouza, A Petrilli, NF Miranda, JF Miranda, GP Tiesi.
Attendance: 49,250Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)