Argentina got their international campaign off to a fine start when they claimed a deserved 30-24 win over Italy in Santa Fé on Saturday.
In an evenly contested clash, momentum between the two sides ebbed and flowed for large periods, especially in the first half, and both sides scored two tries apiece.
Argentina’s had the better of the exchanges during the second half, however, with Nicolas Sanchez, who finished with a 20-point haul via six penalties and a conversion, leading the way with a commanding allround performance.
Italy, who were playing their first match under new coach Conor O’Shea, were competitive throughout but conceded too many penalties and when it was within goalkicking range, Sanchez made them pay.
Both sides gave the ball plenty of air during the opening exchanges but had little to show for their enterprising efforts. Nicolas Sanchez opened the scoring from the kicking tee in the 11th minute but Carlo Canna drew the visitors level with a penalty of his own three minutes later.
The home side were in the ascendancy, however, and Sanchez soon made it 6-3 when he slotted his second penalty in the 18th minute. Argentina’s dominance continued and five minutes later Manuel Montero gathered a kick from Sanchez before crossing for the opening try.
Sanchez failed with his conversion attempt and the hosts were then dealt a blow when Guido Petti was sent to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle on Andries van Schalkwyk on the half-hour mark.
Canna narrowed the gap to five points with his second penalty before Sanchez restored parity when he added his third penalty shortly afterwards.
Italy soon made their numerical advantage count and struck back via a Leonardo Sarto try, five minutes later. The five-pointer was set-up by a mazy run from Simone Favaro who bamboozled the los Pumas defence with a superb turn of speed.
Favaro was eventually brought to ground inside the home side’s 22 but Michele Campagnaro did well to offload to Sarto, who dived over despite having a defender on his back.
Sanchez and Canna both added a penalty apiece which meant los Pumas held a slender 17-16 lead at half-time. Canna gave the visitors the lead for the first time when he landed his fourth penalty three minutes into the second half and for the next 15 minutes the Azzurri did well to keep the home side at bay before Sanchez put his side back in the lead with another three pointer from the tee.
Sanchez then made a superb line break before drawing in a couple of defenders close to Italy’s 22 and offloaded to Juan Martin Hernandez, who got a pass out to Matías Moroni who dived over in the left-hand corner.
Sanchez added the extras and slotted his sixth penalty shortly afterwards to give his team a 30-19 lead. To their credit Italy didn’t surrender and five minutes later, Favaro crossed for their second try from a rolling maul close to the homeside’s try-line.
Although that score meant they still had a chance to snatch victory, Argentina had the better of the closing exchanges and did well to secure the result.
Tries: Montero, Moroni
Pens: Sanchez 6
Yellow Card: Petti
Tries: Sarto, Favaro
Pens: Canna 4
Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Thomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Chaparro Tetaz, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Santiago García Botta
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Felipe Arregui, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Javier Ortega Desio, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 23 Ramiro Moyano
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 David Odiete, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Andries van Schalkwyk, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Abraham Steyn, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Valerio Bernabo’, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Luke Pearce (England), Joaquín Montes (Uruguay)