As expected, the Six Nations champions had a superior scrum and it was just as well because their set-piece rescued an otherwise error-strewn performance that won’t please coach Joe Schmidt ahead of the visit of New Zealand next week.
His mood won’t be helped by injuries to Seán O’Brien, Kieran Marmion and Robbie Henshaw. The Leinster centre cried off before kick-off with a hamstring problem, while O’Brien suffered a serious-looking arm injury and Marmion hurt his ankle.
Will Addison was called into the starting XV for the first time to replace Henshaw and, while he did well, the first-half performance was disjointed.
Argentina exposed issues at the lineout, the restart and in Ireland’s defensive game and if Ireland are as inaccurate next week they’ll be in trouble.
Ireland did have disrupted preparation and ultimately got the job done. Dan Leavy and Luke McGrath came off the bench and were hugely impressive, while Devin Toner brought assurance out of touch when introduced.
Referee Nic Berry showed limitless patience with Argentina’s poor discipline and, had he reached for a deserved yellow card after repeated infringements, Ireland might have wrestled free.
They managed it in the end, but not before a struggle that was partly of their own making.
Argentina out-half Nicolas Sanchez opened the scoring with a difficult penalty after Jordan Larmour was penalised for holding on after Ireland looked to keep the ball in hand early on.
Undeterred, Ireland won three quick penalties and worked their way into the corner. CJ Stander was held up over the line, giving the Irish scrum the first opportunity to attack.
The pack was utterly dominant and when the Pumas’ eight collapsed, Kieran Marmion picked from the base to brush off Sanchez’s tackle and score.
Sexton miscued the conversion and, when Ireland failed to deal with the restart and Ramiro Moyano took the kick, a silly off-the-ball hit from Peter O’Mahony handed Sanchez the chance to put the visitors in front.
Despite their struggling scrum, the Pumas were intent on disrupting. Guido Petti stole a Rory Best throw to the tail, before Seán O’Brien’s high tackle on Pablo Matera invited them into the Irish half.
And the error cost the team as Matias Orlando slipped between Johnny Sexton and Bundee Aki before some intricate interplay took them to the line. Ireland were scrambling and Argentina shifted the ball to the space out right where Bautista Delguy went over unopposed.
Sanchez missed the conversion and his side’s discipline allowed Ireland into their ’22, but James Ryan dropped Iain Henderson’s lineout transfer to let a gilt-edge chance go.
Not for long – their scrum crumbled under pressure and after his first dig at the line was halted by a ferocious Tomas Lavanini hit; Aki wouldn’t be denied a second time and Sexton’s conversion put his side back in front.
The lead changed hands again when Sanchez nailed another long-ranger, punishing Aki’s late hit, as Ireland’s errors mounted.
Argentina weren’t any better and a needless concession from Matera gave Sexton a long-range penalty and he got it spot on.
Schmidt’s mood won’t have been helped by the sight of Seán O’Brien leaving the field holding his arm in a make-shift sling, an injury that will almost certainly rule him out of next week’s game.
Sanchez missed a drop-goal attempt with the final play of the half and Ireland took a one-point lead in at the interval.
But that didn’t last long as Dan Leavy handed Sanchez another chance to put the visitors in front and he obliged once again.
Leavy made up for it with a fantastic turnover, but Sexton’s attempt to kick in behind was off as the frustration grew around the Aviva.
A late, needless Augustin Creevy tackle on the Ireland out-half handed him a chance to put Ireland back in front but his effort dipped under the bar.
The out-half had to be alive when Emiliano Bofelli broke clear off an inside pass from Sanchez and he held things up just long enough after collecting the chip-ahead to allow the cavalry to arrive.
Ireland then lost scrum-half Kieran Marmion to an ankle injury as somehow Argentina kept 15 on the pitch as Lavanini was penalised again.
Referee Nic Berry kept his cards in his pocket as Sexton made it 18-17 and Ireland’s attempts to put it to bed ramped up a notch as they went through 20 phases in the Argentinian half before Jordan Larmour’s chip went into touch.
Peter O’Mahony picked off replacement Julian Montoya’s first throw, but Leavy’s effort to score was held up.
Again, Ireland’s scrum went to work and with advantage Luke McGrath repeated Marmion’s earlier trick by picking from the base and scoring.
Sexton converted to put daylight between the teams and added a penalty with five minutes to go to make it an 11-point game.
IRELAND – J Larmour; K Earls, R Henshaw, B Aki (A Conway 76), J Stockdale; J Sexton (J Carbery 76), K Marmion (L McGrath 57); C Healy (J McGrath 53), R Best (capt) (S Cronin 58), T Furlong (A Porter 68); I Henderson (D Toner 58), J Ryan; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien (D Leavy 39), CJ Stander.
ARGENTINA – E Boffelli; B Delguy, M Orlando (M Moroni 58), J de la Fuente, R Moyano; N Sanchez, T Cubelli (G Vertrabiy 65); S Garcia Botta (JP Zeiss 57), A Creevy (J Montoya 64), S Medrano (L Sordoni ); M Alemanno, T Lavanini (G Petti 76); P Matera (capt) (R Bruni 70), G Petti (T Lezana 65), J Ortega Desio.
Ref – N Berry (Australia)