DUBLIN, Ireland -- Ireland blew away Argentina by a record 46-24 at Aviva Stadium on Saturday to end its longest losing run in 14 years.
The performance was as exceptional as it was surprising. Ireland's seven tries were five more than the total in its five straight test defeats since June. Ireland hadn't scored seven tries against a major test team since a win over Italy in the 2007 Six Nations.
Also remarkable for Ireland were the tryscorers: Left winger Craig Gilroy scored the first in his test debut, hooker Richardt Strauss on the occasion of his second cap, and fullback Simon Zebo on his third. Flyhalf Jonathan Sexton, who'd touched down only once in 33 tests, bagged a brace.
"The enthusiasm of the young lads who've come in - not just Craig but some of the others who didn't play - has been infectious," said coach Declan Kidney. "We talked about having a go at it and that paid off. We picked off a few good tries and that confidence flowed through the team."
Right winger Tommy Bowe also poached two tries as Ireland displayed adventure and composure and saved Kidney's job. Virtually the same team wasted a 12-3 lead in a defeat to South Africa two weeks before, when it went into a shell.
"You never in your wildest dreams think you'll score that number of tries against Argentina," Kidney said. "If things click then this team is well capable of doing that. Today was one of the good days.
"This result makes it a whole lot easier to go to training the next time we meet."
Even though Argentina scored its two tries in the last three minutes, Ireland finished with its highest score and biggest win over the Pumas.
Despite the late burst, the Pumas were a disappointment. After beating Wales and running France close, they came into the match as slight favourites. But their tackling was woeful and their confidence ebbed until a late rash of substitutions. Argentina didn't win a lineout until the second half and one of its scrums backpedalled five meters and conceded Sexton's only penalty score.
"That was a sad way to end the season," Pumas captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe said.
"Rugby is usually won by the team who wants it most and we were over-run in every aspect. We had a good week and were fresh for this match. We will continue to improve and we know we are not the finished product."
Gilroy had scored five tries for Ireland in non-cap wins over the Barbarians and Fiji, and he took only 11 minutes to dot down in his first test. From a lineout, he took an inside pass from Sexton on the Pumas 22 and wrong-footed two defenders to score. He had a little help with interference from Gordon D'Arcy, but Gilroy thrilled the crowd with his every touch.
Sexton played give and take with D'Arcy for the second try, beating two tackles, and Strauss got the third after Ireland mauled Donnacha Ryan's lineout take. Strauss ran the blind and scored one-handed in the right corner. That put Ireland up 19-6 after 22 minutes.
Ryan made a try-saving tackle on scrumhalf Martin Landajo in Argentina's one threatening move of the half, then Ireland replied with its best try. Bowe's brilliant up-and-under on the run launched a counterattack which finished with Sexton throwing a double missout pass to the left touchline to Zebo, who zipped in. Sexton's conversion missed, one of two times he hit the post, but Ireland led 24-9 at the break.
Afterwards, Bowe outpaced two Pumas to pounce on Sexton's kick in goal, Sexton finished off a long attack scoring with Gilroy on his outside, and Bowe scored his second try from Keith Earls' grubber kick while Pumas prop Maximiliano Bustos was in the sin-bin for throwing the ball at opposite Cian Healy.
When Bustos returned, the Pumas finished with tries to replacement flanker Tomas Leonardi and Fernandez Lobbe, but they couldn't ruin Ireland's day.
Ireland 46 (Jonathan Sexton 2, Tommy Bowe 2, Craig Gilroy, Richardt Strauss, Simon Zebo tries; Sexton 3 conversions, penalty, Ronan O'Gara conversion), Argentina 24 (Tomas Leonardi, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe tries; Nicolas Sanchez 4 penalties, Juan Martin Hernandez conversion). HT: 24-9