Planet Rugby

Pumas wear Georgia down

11th September 2007 20:50

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Juan Manuel Leguizamon with a huge hand off

Leguizamon looks to shake off the Georgians

Argentina ground out a rugged 33-3 victory over Georgia in Lyon on Tuesday, patiently eroding spirited resistance from their opposition to notch the win, iced with a bonus-point in the final minute.

The Pumas have something of an inferiority complex when it comes to their standing on the world stage, but on Tuesday they looked like fully paid-up members of the Six Nations club. In other words, they struggled to put away a minnow that thought itself a piranha.

But unlike their 'illustrious' European peers, the Pumas managed to extract themselves from the mire of a 6-3 lead at the break by absorbing the pressure, keeping cool and tweaking tactics.

Argentina coach Marcelo Loffreda had expressed his disappointment at the schedulers who handed them two games in the space of five days, and France's conquerors did look decidedly flat in the early stages of the game.

Argentina captain Agustín Pichot, who was down to start the game, gave way to Nicolás Fernández Miranda at the eleventh hour in a vivid illustration of the difficulties that a short turnaround can cause a team. The Stade Français star strained a muscle in his right leg in the clash with the French, and decided not to risk the game at Stade Gerland.

But blaming fatigue on Argentina's early woes would be disingenuous. The giant Georgian forwards, coupled with the big boot of fly-half Merab Kvirikashvili, caused the Pumas all sorts of problems, and their defence gobbled up serving after serving of Argentine beef. Meanwhile, their unheralded backline seemed almost immune to the spells cast by Juan Martín Hernández and Felipe Contepomi.

Georgia took a leaf out of Argentina's book by exploding into the tournament, forcing the South Americans to spill the kick-off. A red tide swept the Pumas backwards and they were rewarded for their efforts with a penalty for off-side and Kvirikashvili stepped up to claim the first points of the evening - much to the delight of the crowd, whose chants of Allez les rouges rang through the night air.

Felipe Contepomi replied moments later with a penalty of his own and Argentina, slowly but surely, gradually started to assert their authority on proceedings.

Yet with little luck to be had out wide, the Pumas decided to tunnel for the line. But a huge multi-phased attack of mauling came to nought and only served to inspire the Georgians and the neutrals in the crowd.

It is to the immense credit to the Lelos that the scoreboard attendant's third and final task of the half did not come until the 35th minute - and it was only to add three more points to Contepomi's account for a rare Georgian infringement.

A lovely move through the hands on the brink of the break seemed to convince the Pumas that the answer to their problems lay out wide, and the lock was finally broken early in the second half after Hernández and Contepomi both wriggled through half-gaps before sending Lucas Borges over the line for the first try of the game.

Georgia subsequently attempted to spread their own wings, but their good intentions weren't quite commensurate with their skill levels. The Pumas pounced on a spilt ball in midfield and Borges was soon across the whitewash for his second.

So the Pumas had two tries in the bag and two more to score in 20 minutes against tiring opponents for that all-important bonus point. Easy, right? Don't you believe it - the Georgians picked up their game yet again and laid siege to the Argentine lines, turning over ball and chasing down long grubbers with speed and purpose.

The Pumas absorbed the pressure and Georgia finally began to fade as the minutes ticked down to single figures. A rare missed tackle then allowed Patricio Albacete through for an easy try and the hunt for that bonus point was afoot.

Argentina attacked and attacked again, but the brave Georgians hung on as if they were protecting a slender lead.

But Hernández's clever pass out of a double-tackle opened the door to Federico Martín Aramburu, and the wing bagged that vital fifth point with the last move of the game. So Argentina take the spoils, but the honours - in the true sense of the word - go to the Lelos.

Man of the match: If this award could be won on effort alone it would surely go to a Georgian. Besso Udesiani, at the base of the scrum, gave his all and made his presence felt all over the field, and wing Irakli Machkhaneli was a solid in defence as he was eager in attack. Mario Ledesma had another great game for Argentina, as did ice-cool Felipe Contepomi, but the man who finally broke Georgia's resolve was Juan Martín Hernández - so clever, so confident!

Moment of the match: So many lovely moments from the Georgians, all stemming from their determination not to roll over and die. We'll opt for their heroic break out of defence early on the second half that almost knocked the wind out of Argentina's sails. How the crowd loved it!

Villain of the match: Georgia lock Mamuka Gorgodze looked keen to pocket this gong by staging a fight or two, but no one seemed keen to indulge him. But who would? The man's a giant! No award.

The scorers:

For Argentina:

Tries: Borges 2, Albacete, Aramburu

Cons: Contempomi 2

Pens: Contempomi 3

For Georgia:

Pen: Kvirikashvili

Argentina: 15 Ignacio Corleto, 14 Lucas Borges, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Felipe Contepomi (c), 11 Federico Martín Aramburu, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Nicolás Fernández Miranda, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 7 Juan Fernández Lobbe, 6 Martín Durand, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Rimas Álvarez Kairelis, 3 Santiago González Bonorino, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Marcos Ayerza.

Replacements: 16 Alberto Vernet Basualdo, 17 Omar Hasan, 18 Esteban Lozada, 19 Martín Schusterman, 20 Hernán Senillosa, 21 Federico Todeschini, 22 Federico Serra.

Georgia: 15 Pavle Jimsheladze, 14 Irakli Machkhaneli, 13 Malkhaz Urjukashvili, 12 Irakli Giorgadze, 11 Besiki Khamashuridze, 10 Merab Kvirikashvili, 9 Irakli Abuseridze, 8 Besso Udesiani, 7 Grigol Labadze, 6 Giorgi Chkhaidze, 5 Mamuka Gorgodze, 4 Ilia Zedginidze (c), 3 David Zirakashvili, 2 Akvsenti Giorgadze, 1 David Khinchagashvili.

Replacements: 16 Goderdzi Shvelidze, 17 Avtandil Kopaliani, 18 Victor Didebulidze, 19 Zviad Maisuradze, 20 Bidzina Samkharadze, 21 Revaz Gigauri, 22 Giorgi Shkinin.

Referee: Nigel Owens

Touch judges: Dave Pearson, Simon McDowell

Television match official: Hugh Watkins

Assessor: Steve Hilditch

By Andy Jackson

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