Thursday, December 15, 2011

Los Pumas World Cup 2011 Review: Scotland vs Argentina

Argentina´s third match of Rugby World Cup 2011 was the defining match of the tournament for the South Americans as not only was it a must win match but it was against a team that that defeated Los Pumas twice in June 2010. The fortunes of both Argentina and Scotland depended on the outcome of the match.

It was winner takes all and New Zealand´s capital, Wellington, increased the stakes by turning on a rainy night as the team played in miserable conditions. The conditions made it hard to play attacking rugby as the field was wet throughout the match and it rained continuously and often the rain fell heavily. Argentina had debuted vs England at Dunedin, in the city´s new indoor stadium. Oddly enough, Dunedin turned on a nice day for that match.

Argentina had played its second match in Invercargill while Scotland had played its first two matches there. Scotland´s second match, vs Georgia was one that was dominated by the elements with heavy rain and strong winds preventing either side from doing much more than kicking for territory. The match was scheduled to be played in Christchurch. However, due to the tragic events of February 22 in which a 6.3 earthquake struck the city killing 181 people, destroying downtown and badly damaging the stadium, all matches were relocated.

Argentina went into the match having collected a bonus point victory seven days prior after having defeated Romania 43-8 whilst Scotland had had an eleven day turnaround after defeating Georgia 15-6 in its second World Cup match. The sides were very evenly matched but many were suggesting Scotland were the favorite to win based on the sides two away matches vs Los Pumas in June 2010. Scotland created history by defeating Argentina 24-16 in Tucumán and 13-9 in Mar del Plata.

One interesting point which commentators had seemingly failed to point out was that Scotland had got these wins witout scoring tries. Argentina scored two tries to none in the Tucumán test while Jim Hamilton scored the only try of the Mar del Plata test. Curiously, Scotland was unable to score tries in it´s recent wins over both Australia and South Africa.

The Scot´s also entered the do-or-die clash in Wellington having had to rally late to score four tries vs Romania and had been tryless vs the Georgians. On all occassions Scotland had gotten its wins thanks to goalkicking with the likes of fullback Chris Paterson and flyhalf Dan Parks being particularly prominant. The pair would both play key roles for Scotland vs Argentina in Rugby World Cup 2011 but neither would be able to deliver the killer blow.

 LGA slipping through tackles
Scotland had selected the promising Ruardih Jackson at flyhalf with Dan Parks named on the bench. The move was an attempt to get Scotland playing more attacking rugby with Jackson being a vastly more gifted athlete than the kicking expert which is Dan Parks. The weather complicated matters with neither Scotland nor Argentina being able to play an open brand of rugby. It was not through a lack of trying, however as both sides did spin the ball.

Both sides countered one another due to well organized defensive lines and a highly competitive battle of the loose forwards at the breakdown. Argentina had gone into the game with the same eight forwards that faced both England and Romania. The 10-12-13 combination had changed from the English to the Romanian match and it was motified again to face the Scot´s.

Coach Santiago Phelan opted to continue with Santiago Fernández at flyhalf and Marcelo Bosch at outside centre. This saw Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga return to start at fullback with Felipe Contepomi back from his rib injury to play at 12 rather than 10. Horacio Agulla and Gonzalo Camacho were again the starting wingers for Los Pumas. Scotland´s best attacking players were up against these two with Max Evans and Sean Lamont both receiving plenty of ball throughout the contest.

Argentina went into the contest with a poor goalkicking record with both Felipe Contepomi and Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga having contributed to Argentina´s downfall vs England. Both kickers missed a number of opportunities vs Scotland. Conditions made kicking highly complicated with the reliable Chris Paterson also not kicking to his usual standards. At halftime Scotland were leading the match 6-3 and Argentina were in trouble having lost two star players to injury.

Loosehead prop, Rodrigo Roncero was injured as a scrum collapsed and Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe had a freakish knee injury as he landed awkwardly after contesting an up and under. Scotland looked the better side after the break and after Felipe Contepomi had made the scores 6-6 in the 64th minute the Europeans broke clear thanks to two dropgoals with man of the match Ruardih Jackson slotting one in the 65th minute and replacement flyhalf, Dan Parks slotting a second seven minutes latter.

Argentina were at this point losing by six points and facing elimination from Rugby World Cup 2011. Los Pumas needed a converted try and only had eight minutes to score. From the restart, Argentina kicked high and short with backrower, Julio Farias Cabello regathering on Scotland´s 10 metre line. From there scrumhalf, Nicolás Vergallo and the Pumas forwards gained some valuable metres upfield.

Right winger, Gonzalo Camacho went himself from the base of a ruck and fed the ball to Patricio Albacete who was tackled 32 metres out from the tryline in midfield. With Camacho off his wing replacement fullback Lucas González Amorosino recieved the call from Marcelo Bosch to cover the wing. Los Pumas split their backs with Fernández on the left and Contepomi on the right - each having two backs to feed. Vergallo passed from the ruck to Contepomi who attracted two defenders before passing to Bosch who attracted Scotland´s left winger, Sean Lamont.

Bosch held on just long enough to put González Amorosino into a half gap who from there showed good pace to get passed Chris Paterson´s tackle and he subsequently danced his way around Jim Hamilton, Mike Blair, Graeme Morison and Max Evans to score a remarkable try for his country. The scores were 12-11 with Felipe Contepomi needing the conversion to put his side in the lead. Having missed several kickable penalties earlier he was able to this time deliver as Argentina held a one point lead with seven minutes left.

Martín Scelzo celebrates
The Scot´s had an opportunity to win the match in the final minute as Dan Parks line up a dropgoal ten metres from the tryline. Argentina´s rush defence put him off-guard, however as he was forced onto his left boot and was unable to land his attempt. It was not gameover yet, however, as the match continued well over time.

Contepomi had kicked the 22 metre dropout long with Scotland recovering it on its own 10 metre line. The Europeans, upon recovering the ball, attempted to break the line to score a miracle try from inside their own half. The ball was spun left and right but Argentina´s defence proved to be rock solid. After several minutes of tackling, Los Pumas finally managed to turn over the ball with Bosch kicking for touch as the players were extremely elated. Veteran Pumas prop, Martín Scelzo, playing his fourth World Cup was in tears as he celebrated with his captain.

Scotland, in contrast, were simply devastated as the loss meant they needed to defeat England the following week by over seven points or be eliminated from the World Cup before the Quarter Finals for the first time in history. Argentina´s win proved to be the downfall of Scotland while it meant Los Pumas would face New Zealand in the Quarter Finals so long as they could defeat Georgia in Palmerston North seven days latter.

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