Planet Rugby

Pumas make history

07th October 2007 21:40

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Gonzalo Longo try v Scotland

Over! Gonzalo Longo dives for Argentina's try

As if beating the hosts in their own back yard and topping the Pool of death wasn't enough, Argentina booked their place in the World Cup semi-finals for the first time on Sunday, with a clinical 19-13 win over Scotland.

Argentina's forward presence was too much for the Scots, and the steady stream of penalties eked out by the Pumas was enough for Felipe Contepomi to give his team a commanding lead, which they never once looked like relinquishing, even when Scotland rallied late on.

Yet despite that fleeting spectre of another upset, the reality was that after three courses of gourmet nosh this weekend, we were served up suet pud in Paris.

Argentina have spoken at length about their role as leaders of rugby's 'non-aligned movement', but at Stade de France they were the exact mirror image of haughty new tournament favourites, South Africa.

Like the Boks earlier in the day, the Pumas seemed to take the challenge of their unfancied opponents rather lightly. The energy they heaped all over France and Ireland was replaced by lethargy. Felipe Contepomi and Juan Martín Hernández, great players though they are, acted a wee bit too cool at times. They allowed a very average performance from Scotland to rattle them, and they failed to bolt the door they had closed as early as half-time. Has the hype gone to their heads?

Indeed, had it not been from a snail-like start from Scotland, coupled with their litany of unforced errors, the Pumas might have gone the way of Australia and New Zealand. Fiji would have made the Pumas pay for such nonchalance.

But a win is a win - and at this stage of proceedings it is all that is needed. Next up is the Boks, and one would wager that both sides will now pull up their socks and pay the opposition the proper heed.

Yet it could have been so different. It seemed that the Pumas would bare their claws at every opportunity after Hernández pulled the trigger on a drop-goal as early as the tenth second of the game.

But the game soon meandered into a wilderness of ponderous Argentine bombs and poor Scottish handling.

The Scots actually drew first blood after Mike Blair was taken out in the air whilst fielding one of Hernández's many garryowens. Dan Parks - Scotland's long-range marksman - stepped up to slot the penalty.

Felipe Contepomi then brought his side level after a rare run from Hernández ended with a high tackle from big Nathan Hines.

Rory Lamont then got in a muddle whilst fielding yet another long ball. He made no attempt to escape the onrushing Pumas and it could well be that his call for 'mark' was not heard by referee Joël Jutge, who ruled that Scotland had infringed at the ensuing breakdown. Contepomi stepped up to add injury to insult.

So, with the game approaching middle age and the crowd growing nostalgic for 'Super Saturday', the Pumas had finally secured the lead. A slender one, yes, but it was soon too grow fat.

This time the Scottish blunder came from Parks who dithered as he shaped to clear his lines. The little pivot was soon eclipsed by the giant frame of Gonzalo Longo who not only charged down the kick but beat Sean Lamont to touch down for Argentina's only try of the game. Contepomi added the extras and the South Americans were suddenly sitting on a 13-3 lead.

Scotland's travelling contingent of fans desperately needed a lift, and it duly appeared in the shape of Chris Paterson placing his trusty tee in the grass. The sinister salute with the left arm, the languid sweep of the right leg, and Scotland had narrowed the gap.

With the Bank of Paterson now open for business, Scotland looked a little more confident and punctuated the first half by bullying the Argentinians off a scrum. It's an event normally only illuminated by the light of a blue moon, and it gave a hint of what was to come later in the game.

Scotland made a change at the break by introducing Andrew Henderson, but the old errors continued and Contepomi soon added another three points to his account after the Scottish forwards conceded a penalty in the shadow of their own posts.

With the game ebbing from their grip, Scotland changed tack. They were now pushing their big forwards at Argentina's half-backs and soon began to winkle out penalties and scrums from the increasingly scrappy South Americans.

Scotland's big backs had also recovered from a listless first-half and began to make inroads with some boisterous running.

But Hernández was also growing in stature and he kept the Scots honest by pinning them back at every opportunity, following up on one such territorial snatch by slotting a drop-goal.

The repetitive sucker-punches were taking a toll on the Scots and the dark blue bench was duly emptied onto the field in an attempt to revive fortunes.

And what an impact the cavalry made!

Suddenly Scotland were alive. A fantastic break down the middle of the pitch by Craig Smith put the Pumas in reverse. The support arrived and the same men who seemed unable to catch a cold in the preceding hour put together a string of dare-devil passes. Big Kelly Brown got on to the end of one and tip-toed down the left touchline before finding Chris Cusiter on his inside, and the scrum-half was over for the try.

Paterson stepped up to slot his 17th consecutive shot at goal - he hasn't missed in this tournament - and out of nowhere we were heading to heart-attack territory for the fourth time in two days.

Argentina looked to up their game but they were shaken - Contepomi and Hernández both now looked capable of dross.

Scotland sensed the swing of the pendulum and grabbed on with both hands. France hasn't witnessed such blatant disregard for the good and the great since the storming of the Bastille, and it looked like more rugby royalty would soon be swinging from the scaffold.

But the Scots could not rid themselves of their unforced errors, and the opportunity to sneak into the last four went up in smoke with a lost line-out on Argentina's line.

Man of the match: Mike Blair, Andrew Henderson and Chris Cusiter all added impetus to Scotland's quest, but all trailed in the wake carved by Craig Smith. Juan Martín Hernández had another fine game, but blew hot and cold. Gonzalo Longo impressed once again (there's surely now no way back for Juan Manuel Leguizamón) but our man of the match is the evergreen Mario Ledesma - a cross between an energetic puppy and an old carthorse.

Moment of the match: Very few moments stand out, but we'll go for Scotland's try - out of nowhere it delivered the prospect of an upset.

Villain of the match: Some niggle here and there but nothing too nasty. No award.

The scorers:

For Scotland:

Try: Cusiter

Con: Paterson

Pen: Parks, Paterson

For Argentina:

Try: Longo

Con: Contempomi

Pens: Contempomi 3

Drop goal: Hernandez

Scotland: 15 Rory Lamont, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Simon Webster, 12 Rob Dewey, 11 Chris Paterson, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Simon Taylor, 7 Allister Hogg, 6 Jason White, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Nathan Hines, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Gavin Kerr.

Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Craig Smith, 18 Scott MacLeod, 19 Kelly Brown, 20 Chris Cusiter, 21 Andrew Henderson, 22 Hugo Southwell.

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

Replacements: 16 Alberto Vernet Basualdo, 17 Omar Hasan, 18 Rimas Álvarez Kairelis, 19 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 20 Nicolás Fernandez Miranda, 21 Federico Todeschini, 22 Hernán Senillosa.

Referee: Joël Jutge (France)

Touch judges: Chris White (England), Stuart Dickinson (Australia)

Television match official: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)

Assessor: Bob Francis (New Zealand)

By Andy Jackson

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