Paul O’Connell admitted that Ireland will have to tighten up their defence for the concluding match of their summer tour, after leaking two tries to Argentina in last Saturday’s clash at Estadio Centenario.
Joe Schmidt’s men were left to rue some missed tackles as Manuel Montero and Tomas de la Vega crossed the Irish whitewash in either half of the first Test.
Ireland scored three tries of their own through Chris Henry, man-of-the-match Jonathan Sexton and Andrew Trimble to run out deserved 29-17 winners, but the defensive lapses will undoubtedly be focused on by the coaches this week.
Paul O’Connell wants the much-changed squad to maintain the high standards set during the Six Nations-title winning campaign and knows they can ill-afford to give the Pumas any leeway in the next weekend’s rematch in Tucumán.
“I’m disappointed and Les (Kiss) will be disappointed as well, with the missed tackles. I think Argentina have a lot of very talented footballers with excellent footwork, and size as well,” said the Ireland captain.
“Certainly the way they put pressure on you off turnovers, they love hitting you off turnovers. That bit of play when we nearly scored a try early in the first half, they take a quick tap and they nearly score 30 seconds later – that kind of thing is probably something we’ve spoken about every day since we came together, and that was frustrating for that to happen.
“We missed tackles, tackles that I think we should have made, and it conceded momentum to Argentina…we need to defend better if we’re going to put in a better performance against them next Saturday.”
While those defensive slips and the failure to convert breaks from Darren Cave and Luke Marshall into scores will rankle, the positives certainly outweigh the negatives for this new-look Irish camp.
It was Ireland’s first ever Test win in Argentina after defeats in 2000 and 2007 (two matches), while three players made their debuts – Robbie Diack, Kieran Marmion and Rodney Ah You – and new combinations were tested as 13 players with 10 caps or less all got game-time.
The scrum and lineout were reliable throughout, with newcomer Diack used regularly in the latter, and Ireland’s impressive discipline in clammy conditions was a pleasing factor for O’Connell.
“Our discipline was excellent. We took up where we left off in the Six Nations in terms of our discipline. I think we only conceded seven penalties, or something like that, which is great against Argentina.
“I think our set piece was really good. We got a lot of good starter plays off our lineout, we turned over a few really crucial scrums as well which was good as they were massive pressure relievers.”
O’Connell’s 100th Test appearance – it was his 93rd Ireland cap in addition to seven Lions Tests – was his first time playing in Argentina, and he agreed that the squad will benefit from such a physical outing in the Chaco heat.
“When you see the likes of Felix Jones struggling with five minutes to go from a fitness point of view – he is one of the fittest guys I’ve ever played with – it just shows how physical a game it was and how draining it was fitness-wise. It was a real slog throughout, a real tough physical game.
“For a few of the young guys and a few of the guys who got their first cap and who maybe aren’t regulars in the side it is good to come down to a place like this and get a real tough test and come through it.”
The Munster second row, who was skippering Ireland for the tenth time, pinpointed Henry’s try from a lineout maul before half-time as a crucial moment with the tourists quickly cancelling out Montero’s breakaway effort that had the Pumas leading 10-6.
Commenting on Ireland’s response to that concession, he said: “It was great. Zeebs (Simon Zebo) won the kick-off which was excellent, then we got a penalty two or three metres from the touchline and kicked it to the corner.
“Our set piece had been good throughout the game and in getting over the line, it was an important five points after conceding. It probably put us back on the right track.”