The Ireland Under-20s lost their grip on an early lead as IRB Junior World Championship hosts Argentina bit back to triumph in Sunday’s Pool B encounter in Rosario.
IRB JUNIOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP – POOL B: Sunday, June 13
ARGENTINA UNDER-20s 24 IRELAND UNDER-20s 21, Estadio El Coloso del Parque, Rosario
Scorers: Argentina: Tries: Gonzalo Vila, Tomas De La Vega; Con: Santiago Mendez; Pens: Santiago Mendez 3; Drop: Ignacio Rodriguez Muedra
Ireland: Tries: Ben Marshall, David Doyle; Con: James McKinney; Pens: James McKinney 3
UCD duo Ben Marshall and David Doyle crossed for a try apiece but a resilient Argentina side still managed to dash Ireland’s hopes of a first win at the IRB Junior World Championship.
Second row Marshall notched a 16th minute try as Allen Clarke’s youngsters started strongly and built an early 13-0 lead.
But a Gonzalo Vila try inspired the Pumitas to get back level for half-time, with Ireland having number 8 Paddy Butler sin-binned.
Santiago Mendez’s assured goal-kicking helped the hosts move further ahead before replacement hooker Doyle got a late consolation try.
Coming into the tournament as Six Nations champions, Ireland had high hopes of pushing for the semi-finals or at least the 5th-8th place play-offs.
However, the disappointment was palpable at the final whistle as the Irish side, captain by hooker Niall Annett, fell to their third straight pool defeat in Rosario.
Annett took on the captaincy in the absence of the Rotorua-bound Rhys Ruddock, and he will have been pleased with how the first half-an-hour went.
Nevin Spence and Eoin Griffin were using their pace and power to cause problems for Argentina in midfield, and out-half James McKinney’s intelligent kicking had Ireland on the front foot.
A lovely left-footed thump from winger Simon Zebo got Ireland into the hosts’ 22 for the first time, but the attacking situation was wasted.
Scrum half John Cooney then showed a good turn of pace to dart through a gap and with Victor Damian Arias going off his feet at the subsequent ruck, McKinney kicked Ireland into an 11th minute lead.
A muscular run from Spence had the Pumitas scrambling back, and a bust through the middle from Griffin, soon after, led to Marshall’s opening try.
Butler did well to retain possession at a ruck on the Argentinian 22, and some slick pass from McKinney, Griffin, Annett and Darren Hudson created the space out on the right for Marshall to cut in from the touchline past two defenders on the way to the line.
McKinney kicked an excellent conversion and Marshall popped up in another counter attack as the home defence was broken again. McKinney was inches away from grabbing try number two, with Argentina centre Federico Haustein putting in a last-ditch challenge in the left corner.
The Irish number 10 punished a ruck infringement with a crisply-struck 40-metre penalty to move his side 13-0 ahead and Clarke’s charges were beginning to purr.
Argentina scrum half Mendez missed his first penalty attempt, but the hosts raised their game coming up to half-time thanks to some terrific running from deep.
They profited from a quickly-taken lineout to blitz through some poor Irish defence and the tricky Mendez popped a well-timed offload to flanker Gonzalo Vila who had the gas to run in behind the posts for a 37th minute try.
Mendez added the extras and a yellow card for Butler, who was in an offside position as he intercepted an Argentinian pass as they attacked in the Irish 22, added to Ireland’s growing woes.
Mendez landed the resulting penalty and his half-back partner Ignacio Rodriguez Muedra chipped in with a late drop goal as Argentina’s fiery finish saw them back level at 13-13.
McKinney was unfortunate to see his long range penalty bounce back off a post as Ireland got back on the attack in the early stages of the second half.
Yet Argentina’s confidence was clearly growing and their forwards were beginning to dictate, particularly in the scrum where Ireland lost their monster prop Stewart Maguire to injury.
In the 47th minute, the Pumitas got within sight of the whitewash through a powerful maul and series of rucks, and flanker Tomas De La Vega took his chance to plunge over the line amid some desperate Irish defence.
Mendez’s conversion attempt was off target, and Ireland hit back through the right boot of McKinney. He landed his third penalty, closing the gap to 18-16, after a late tackle by Alexis Barone on Simon Zebo.
Argentina had the better of the middle part of the second half, using their now dominant scrum to put Ireland under huge pressure. Mendez added a penalty from in front of the posts, and was narrowly wide with a second awarded for a similar scrum infringement.
Ireland needed a lift and they got one when Maguire’s replacement Denis Buckley won a kickable penalty, competing well at a midfield ruck. McKinney missed the kick to the right, however.
A great break through the middle by replacement Brendan Macken helped Ireland engineer a much-needed try-scoring opportunity. With Jack O’Connell forced off with an injury, uncontested scrums were called for and Butler was hauled down just short of the home line off one such set piece.
But Argentina’s forwards were getting the better of the breakdown and Ireland’s play, not helped by some wayward kicking, had become ragged. Mendez kicked his side 24-16 clear, punishing an offside decision against Dominic Ryan.
That proved to be the match-winning score as although Ireland kept plugging away to grab a late try from Doyle – McKinney’s half break and flicked pass putting his team-mate over in the right corner – Argentina were able to see out a win which has them through to the 5th-8th place play-offs.
Ireland’s best possible finish is ninth now. They join Scotland, Samoa and Tonga in the 9th-12th place play-offs, with the Samoans their next opponents in Parana on Thursday (kick-off 1pm local time/5pm Irish time).
TIME LINE: 11 minutes – Ireland penalty: James McKinney – 0-3; 16 mins – Ireland try: Ben Marshall – 0-8; conversion: James McKinney – 0-10; 27 mins – Ireland penalty: James McKinney – 0-13; 31 mins – Argentina penalty: missed by Santiago Mendez – 0-13; 37 mins – Argentina try: Gonzalo Vila – 5-13; conversion: Santiago Mendez – 7-13; 39 mins – Ireland yellow card: Paddy Butler; 40 mins – Argentina penalty: Santiago Mendez – 10-13; 40+2 mins – Argentina drop goal: Ignacio Rodriguez Muedra – 13-13; Half-time – Argentina 13 Ireland 13; 47 mins – Argentina try: Tomas De La Vega – 18-13; conversion: missed by Santiago Mendez – 18-13; 51 mins – Ireland penalty: James McKinney – 18-16; 53 mins – Argentina penalty: Santiago Mendez – 21-16; 61 mins – Argentina penalty: missed by Santiago Mendez – 21-16; 65 mins – Ireland penalty: missed by James McKinney – 21-16; 72 mins – Argentina penalty: Santiago Mendez – 24-16; 78 mins – Ireland try: David Doyle – 24-21; conversion: missed by James McKinney – 24-21; Full-time – Argentina 24 Ireland 21
ARGENTINA: Pedro Mercerat; Dan Isaack, Brian Ormson, Federico Haustein, Manuel Montero; Ignacio Rodriguez Muedra, Santiago Mendez; Francis Errecaborde, Tomas Baravalle, Victor Damian Arias, Martin Chiappesoni, Lucas Ponce, Gonzalo Vila, Tomas De La Vega, Alan Kessen (capt).
Replacements used: Alexis Barone for Errecaborde, Javier Ortega Desio for Chiappesoni (both half-time), Matias Masera for Isaack (56), Eduardo Lopez for Arias (66). Not used: Esteban Viale, Federico Miranda, Fernando Dario Luna.
IRELAND: Andrew Conway; Darren Hudson, Eoin Griffin, Nevin Spence, Simon Zebo; James McKinney, John Cooney; Jack O’Connell, Niall Annett (capt), Stewart Maguire, David O’Callaghan, Ben Marshall, Jordi Murphy, Dominic Ryan, Paddy Butler.
Replacements used: Denis Buckley for Maguire (24 mins, inj), Noel Reid for Hudson (40+1), David Doyle for O’Connell (60, inj), Brendan Macken for Zebo (63), Michael Heaney for Cooney, Brian O’Hara for Ryan (both 73), Brian Hayes for Spence (80+1, inj).
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)