Friday, December 23, 2011

Los Pumas World Cup 2011 Review: Argentina vs Georgia

Juan Imhoff on the break

Argentina´s final Pool match took place seven days after the classic encounter vs Scotland in Wellington. Los Pumas´ one point victory that evening meant that they were all but guaranteed a spot in the Quarter Finals. All that stood in their way was the seventh ranked European side, Georgia. Argentina were being talked about as overwhelming favorites to not only win but to win well and thus collect a bonus point. This made it tougher for Scotland than for anybody else as the Scot´s failure to score a bonus point vs Georgia on September 14 meant that the England vs Scotland match required not only a Scottish victory but a bonus point victory. As it turned out Scotland were leading throughout the match only for English winger Chris Ashton to score a late try which meant England were victorious and having one every match were guaranteed first place in the group and a Quarter Final vs France. Argentina, therefore could still advance if they were to lose the match vs Georgia. A bonus point loss would have been sufficient which meant Argentina´s clash with Georgia was not as tough as it otherwise would have been.

Argentina had lost backrower and vice-captain, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe to a knee injury in the win over Scotland and loosehead prop Rodrigo Roncero looked to also have had his World Cup ended  after he had to be substituted following a collapsed scrum. The two missing senior players meant Argentina´s lineup to face Georgia was significantly different to what would have been thoughout of twelve months prior. Argentina went in the World Cup without Juan Martín Hernández and Alvaro Galindo and lost Gonzalo Tiesi in its first match of the tournament. The match vs Georgia was further complicated by how the match vs Scotland unfolded. The bruising encounter meant Argentina were without secondrower Manuel Carizza and right winger Gonzalo Camacho who did not make the 22 to take on the Eastern Europeans. Los Pumas could hardly complain, however, as the Lelos had only been given a four day turn around by the World Cup organizers and Georgia had fielded a full strength side for its clash vs Romania in which Georgia impressed in notching up a 25-9 victory.

Georgia´s win over Romania was remarkable in a number of ways. Romania, according to history, are Europe´s seventh best side and were defeating France and Italy regularly during the communist era. The side also did well against Wales and Scotland during this time but were not invited into the Five Nations due to the west´s attitude towards the communist east. Romania, since 1989, have been a shadow of its former self but the Eastern Europeans had, nonetheless, defeated Zimbabwe, Fiji, the USA, Namibia and Portugal in previous World Cup´s and the only campaign in which the Oaks had lost every match was in 1995 due to having to face Australia, South Africa and, what was then a very competitive, Canada. Since 2007, Georgia had gotten the better of Romania but the match was the first in which neither side could say it was not at full strength. Georgia´s ability to boss Romania around the park was highly noteworthy and explained why both Scotland and England had been unable to score big wins like the experts had been predicting.

Los Pumas had faced Georgia one time previously, at Lyon in Argentina´s second match of Rugby World Cup 2007. It was a four day turn around and Argentina had to fight to the death to get a bonus point as Georgia´s defence proved unbreakable during the first half. Argentina managed to score the four tries as Lucas Borges got a double, Patricio Albacete went over for his only international try thus far and Federico Martín Aramburu grabbed a pass from Hernández to go over in the final minute. Questions were asked of Argentina by Georgia and four days latter the Lelos almost defeated Ireland. Argentina would not be taking the Eastern Europeans lightly, even if many from rugby´s global media were.

Like in 2007, Georgia proved to be highly competitive in the first half of the contest and it took over half an hour before the scoring began. Juan Imhoff went over in the 32nd minute for a superb try in which Argentina used the width of the field before the young winger was able to break tackles and who tremendous accleration to open the scoring. It counted for little, however, as Lasha Khmaladze scored for the Lelos seven minutes latter and with Malkhaz Urjukashvili´s conversion Georgia were winning the match 7-5 at the interval. Memories were reborn from 2007 when Georgia took it to the Irish as it took two late tries from Los Pumas saw the South Americans home. The Europeans were unable to score a point after the interval which meant Argentina´s two tries in the final fifteen minutes were hard to swallow for Georgia. The Lelos could leave Palmerston North and Rugby World Cup 2011 knowing that they not only had they defeated Romania but they had prevented both Scotland and Argentina from scoring a bonus point.

Argentina´s 25-7 victory meant Los Pumas finished second in Pool B behind England and would face New Zealand in the fourth Quarter Final one week latter at Auckland´s Eden Park. Despite facing three tier one sides, Georgia conceeded fewer points than all of Canada, Japan, Fiji, Italy, Namibia Tonga, Romania, Russia and the USA.
                                        Argentina Anthem


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