Planet Rugby

Pumas tear up the script

07th September 2007 21:50

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Pumas jubilant

The decisive moment: The Contempomi twins help Nani Corleto celebrate his try

Argentina have won the opening game of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, beating hosts France 17-12 in the Stade de France on Friday in a scrappy but thrilling match.

"We exist." That is what General Agustín Pichot said after Argentina's famous victory over France at Stade de France, a victory to turn the 2007 World Cup on its head.

What a famous victory - and a deserved one. For one thing they scored the only try of the match, and France, apart from a long sequence of sterile batterings at the Puma line early in the second half, did not really look like scoring a try.

Before the match when the anthems were sung, the Argentinians looked overwhelmed with emotion while the French looked composed, not quite insouciant but nearly. The match was the reverse. The Pumas played with structure and cool urgency while the French composure came apart at the seams. The Pumas' emotions had direction while France's perceived composure crumbled into nervousness.

The Pumas chased everything while the French often regarded the game with languid interest. The Pumas piled into every tackle/ruck with a reckless will to disrupt and make difficult. The French were better in the line-outs and the maul. That is what held most promise of a try. The French were able to win the crucial line-outs and the vital scrums, but that was only an occasional burst of effort on their part. The Pumas' effort did not abate.

The Pumas kicked a lot and they chased but they also tackled a lot - 127 times to France's 66. They certainly tackled. And when they could not quite get there they reached out and tapped an ankle. The French gave the impression of fear.

The French experiment of playing Cédric Heymans at fullback was not a success. Having two excellent wings did not help when time and again handling failed the French in the face of Puma pressure. The French were jittery from start to the frantic finish.

This is just the second time that the hosts have lost the opening match. The previous time was in 1991 when England lost to New Zealand. Oddly enough England made the World Cup final, New Zealand did not.

Argentina dominated the first half and ended it leading 17-9. Good though the position was, it did not quite do justice to their dominance. From the time France kicked off to start the match, Argentina were on top. Their avowed intent was to get points on the board. Juan Martín Hernández tried a left-footed drop and missed. He tried a right-footed drop and David Skrela charged it down. More drop attempts were to follow in the match - all five in the match missed.

After the second drop Pieter de Villiers was penalised for holding on at a tackle and Felipe Contepomi goaled. 3-0 after four minutes.

Two minutes later France managed to get close enough for Skrela to level the scores when Juan Fernandez Lobbe was penalised at a tackle.

The first serious bit of running came from Felipe Contepomi when he cut back to the blindside and darted ahead. Heymans was penalised and again Felipe Contepomi goaled brilliantly. 6-3 after nine minutes.

France ran themselves out of trouble but the Pumas scrambled in defence and clung on to Frenchmen who seemed to give up. When Pichot intercepted a pass from Imañol Harinordoquy to Rémy Martin at the base of a scrum, Argentina increased their pressure. When Ignacio Corleto kicked and caught an up-and-under the Pumas again attacked. They had a five-metre scrum but the French pack destroyed their scrum and won the ball.

Dominici was penalised at a tackle and from an acute angle Felipe Contepomi goaled yet again. 9-3 after 23 minutes.

The next score was the only try. Corleto hoofed and Damien Traille caught brilliantly and broke clear. He gave to Martin and France looked to be on their way to score till Martin passed to his right. There was little Horacio Agulla. He had come off his wing to meet the French attack and gratefully accepted Martin's pass. Agulla ran and gave to Manuel Contepomi who gave to Corleto who raced past two French defenders on a long diagonal for a try without a hand laid on him.

Felipe Contepomi's conversion attempt from about 10 metres in from touch hit the upright and stayed out. Later in the second half one wondered if that bit of wood would not prove the Pumas' undoing. 14-3 after 27 minutes.

France managed to get some possession after this and Skrela burst well to put them on an attack whose only fruit was a penalty goal when Rodrigo Roncero infringed at a tackle. Felipe Contepomi steadied the ship with a penalty from just inside his own half, straight in front of the posts. On the stroke of half-time Skrela goaled a third penalty when Juan Fernandez Lobbe was penalised for an uncertain infringement.

The second half - all 40 minutes of it - produced just one score - a penalty by Skrela when Rimas Alvarez, who had replaced Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe in the first half, was penalised for going in at the side of a maul.

France had started the half running and their running was promising and produced more ball for them, but it rather fizzled out except for sporadic outbursts. They also produced a massive maul that went over 20 metres down the field and set up the siege to the Pumas' line which came to nothing when they let the backs have the ball and Dominici was penalised for holding on.

There could have been more points in the half but first Skrela and then Frédéric Michalak missed easy penalties at goal. But then Corletto had a run away and they could have scored had he got his pass up to Felipe Contepomi's hands.

With just two minutes left the reliable Felipe Contepomi missed one shot at goal and then, with time expired, he missed one from straight in front which galvanised the French into action from behind their own line, but still the Puma defence held until the final whistle went, signalling an outpouring of glee from all Argentina.

The Pumas exist all right as a force in world rugby and as an energetic force in this World Cup. It was a great moment for Argentinian rugby.

Afterwards Pichot was calm and took time out to thank the French people who "took us in as their sons" and helped them to develop as such a special team. Coach Marcelo Loffreda stressed the need for cool heads. Raphaël Ibañez, captain of France, looked bewildered.

All of France was bewildered.

Man of the Match: There was a team full of Puma candidates but there is no doubt that for his generalship, for the pressure he kept on the French and for the cool head he has the man of the match was Agustin Pichot

Moment of the Match: The intercept by Horacio Agulla and the run by Ignacio Corleto for the only try of the match.

Villain of the Match: None of the players was a villain, even though at times must have been trying.

The scorers:

For France:

Pens: Skréla 4

For Argentina:

Try: Corleto

Pens: Felipe Contempomi 4

France: 15 Cédric Heymans, 14 Aurélien Rougerie, 13 Damien Traille, 12 Yannick Jauzion, 11 Christophe Dominici, 10 David Skréla, 9 Pierre Mignoni, 8 Imañol Harinordoquy, 7 Rémy Martin, 6 Serge Betsen, 5 Jérôme Thion, 4 Fabien Pelous, 3 Pieter De Villiers, 2 Raphaël Ibañez (captain), 1 Olivier Milloud.

Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18 Sébastian Chabal, 19 Julien Bonnaire, 20 Thierry Dusautoir, 21 Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, 22 Frédéric Michalak.

Argentina: 15 Ignacio Corleto, 14 Lucas Borges, 13 Manuel Contepomi, 12 Felipe Contepomi, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Agustín Pichot (captain), 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7 Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Lucas Ostiglia, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, 3 Martín Scelzo, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.

Replacements: 16 Alberto Vernet Basualdo, 17 Santiago Gonzalez Bonorino, 18 Rimas Alvarez, 19 Martín Durand, 20 Nicolás Fernandez Miranda, 21 Federico Todeschini, 22 Hernán Senillosa.

Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)

Touch judges: Stuart Dickinson (Australia), Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)

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