Sunday, June 17, 2012

Argentina 23-20 France, Córdoba

Photo UAR
Argentina has enjoyed a strong run vs France over the past decade. So strong, in fact, that Los Pumas had won seven of the past ten tests against France heading in to last nights match in Córdoba. Statistics, however, were not important at all in the build up to this match as the real story was not about previous results or about who was playing for the two countries. Rather, the bigger story was who was not.

 Argentina fielded a side packed with players with shaven heads. The reason being that there is a tradition for Pumas players, upon making their first appearance against a Tier One opponent to shave their hair. The shaving occurs in the days that follow and for Belisario Agulla, Tomás Cubelli, Tomás de la Vega, Martín Landajo, Ignacio Mieres, Manuel Montero, Joaquin Tuculet who all featured in the win vs Italy seven days ago this meant they were all bald and ready to take on France in Córdoba.

Argentina fielded such an unknown side vs France that only captain Felipe Contepomi and backrower Júlio Farías Cabello played at Rugby World Cup 2011. The other thirteen were selected by Santiago Phelan for the share reason of developing depth as he has resisted temptation to recall any of the 24 players being rested ahead of The Rugby Championship. 
France, in contrast had six players from the World Cup Final playing in Córdoba. 

While the Argentine side had many players from Los Pampas XV and had only six French based players and one English based player in the starting lineup, from sides who did not feature in the post season play-off´s. France, meanwhile, went for big name players from the likes of Clermont, Montpellier, Stade Français and Toulouse. Argentina´ ability to be competitive and win the match underlines the success of the PladAR system and suggests that at full strength, Los Pumas are a match for anybody and will be hard to knock over, especially at home, in The Rugby Championship. 

Foto UAR: Try Agulla
In front of a large and vocal, but not full audience, the match started with a quick penalty to France which Morgan Parra slotted to put Les Bleus 3-0 ahead in the second minute. The South Americans blasted to the lead in response as Belisario Agulla, the relatively unknown younger brother of Argentina´ two time World Cup winger, Horacio Agulla scored the games first try in just the fourth minute of play as he snatched a pass from French flyhalf François Trinh-Duc. The pass turned into a gift for Agulla as Argentina´ latest product of class from Los Pampas XV, Tomás de la Vega put in a great tackle on Trinh-Duc which had the effect of taking the air out of the pass. Contepomi landed the conversion to make it 7-3 after four minutes. 

Parra kicked his second penalty in the nineth minute to cut the lead to a single point and he then put France in front in the 23rd minute with his fourth goal as Les Bleus were playing the better rugby in the first half. Contepomi landed a penalty in the 25th minute before France broke clear down midfield and attacked the Pumas tryline. After severl phases Trinh-Duc kicked wide to the wing with Jean Marcellin Buttin catching, attracting the tackle of Manuel Montero and off-loading to backrower Louis Picamoles who went over for France´ first, and only, try of the evening. Contpomi kicked his second penalty at the end of the half to make it a one point game with France leading 14-13 at the interval. 

Foto UAR: Montero secures victory
France looked to be heading for a victory after the interval as the Europeans were taking over certain areas of play with the Pumas´ scrum being dominated. Parra had kicked an early penalty put put France four points ahead before Argentine backrower, Tomás Leonardí was yellowcarded for entering a ruck from the side when France were hot on attack. With Leonardí off, Parra put France ahead 20-13 in the 61st minute.

The scrum was being dominated and the replacements failed to alter the situation but Argentina were able to prevent France from scoring and Contepomi cut the deficit to four points with a penalty in the 65th minute. France looked to attack throughout the half, an indeed tha match, but were not able to finish off chances. With three minutes left to play backrower Fulgence Ouedraogo threw a loose pass near the Pumas´ 22 which was regathered by Argentina for outside centre Joaquín Tuculet to seize the opportunity to attract defenders and kick ahead for Manuel Montero to collect and run clear to put Argentina one point ahead. With Contepomi´ conversion Argentina were ahead 23-20 with two minutes remaining and succeeded in closing out the match for a victory.

The crowd at Córdoba was vocal throughout with Morgan Parra seemingly feeling the pressure as he lined up goalkicking opportunities. The stadium will certainly be utilized more in the future and is bound to host matches in The Rugby Championship. It also goes to underline the strength of Argentina hosting Rugby World Cup 2023. Game two of the two match series will be played in Tucumán next Saturday. In defeating Les Bleus, Argentina stretches its unbeaten run to five tests after defeating Brazil, Chile and Uruguay in the South American Championship and Italy in San Juan last weekend.

Match Highlights

Complete First Half

Complete Second Half

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