|Rodrigo Roncero Photo: UAR|
Officially it was Argentina´s fourth test of the year after Los Pumas took on Brazil, Chile and Uruguay in the South American Championship. Los Pumas won the tournament problem free with Leonardo Senatore captaining a team made up of Argentine based players. Today´ team, in contrast, consisted of a mixture of players from Los Pampas XV and European professionals. Infact, Santiago Phelan changed so many players that Contepomi and Roncero were joined only by Julio Farías and Senatore as players who played in the World Cup Quarter Final vs New Zealand from Rugby World Cup 2011. Ten of the remaining eleven are amongst the 24 man squad while Mario Ledesma retired following the Quarter Final. Replacing the rested players (including Patricio Albacete and Juan Fernández Lobbe who were in today´ Top 14 Final) were a number of young players not only from Los Pampas XV but also players who have done well this season in Europe. Joaquin Tuculet did well at Sale Sharks and Ignacio Mieres at Exeter Chiefs in the Aviva Premiershp yet neither would usually be in a match day 22 to face Italy. Similarly Francisco Goméz Kodela started in the frontow after doing well for Biarritz this season.
One of Argentina´ best players was backrower Tomás Leonardí who made 20 tackles but left the field injured in the 71st minute. He is an example of the success of the PladAR program and Los Pampas XV. He had previously started for Los Pumas against Tier one opposition back in 2009 as both Àlvaro Galindo and Juan Leguizamón were unavaliable due to injury. Leonardí´ fine performance also came with a try, Argentina´ first which came in the 29th minute of play. It was the games second try after Italy had scored a penalty try in the 22nd minute. The penalty try came from a collapsed scrum 5 metres from the Pumas tryline. It reflected the loss of Pumas starting tight forwards while also underlining the power of the Italian scrum. Both Contepomi and Italy´ Kris Burton converted the tries and the Puma kicked two penalties, one more than Burton which put the South Americans 13-10 ahead at the interval.
Argentina came out strong following the restart with Contepomi being given two penalty attempts around the Italian 22. He missed one but made the second from a similar position to put Los Pumas six points clear. Italy then hit back with a great solo try from Edoardo Gori as the scrumhalf ran around and over for a try from a tighthead scrum. The Argentine scrum was looking troubled but Argentina were able to survive and dominated the remainder of the game. Two minutes after Gori´ try, Roncero scored a spectacular try for a prop forward, let alone a 35 year old as he collected an blind-inside pass from Contepomi and got passed three tacklers. Contepomi converted to put Argentina back in control and when Senatore scored Argentina´ third try eight minutes latter the victory was guaranteed. Contepomi again landed the conversion and then scored a try of his own under the posts in the 77th minute which he converted. Italian veteran Mauro Bergamasco went over in the corner for the games final try and with Riccardo Bocchino landing the conversion. Importantly, the win was by more than 14 which will mean Argentina are advantaged with the IRB World Rankings.
While the crowd could have been better those who did attend the match were given a super show of running rugby with Argentina playing a vastly different brand than what is stereotypical of Los Pumas. The final score of 37-22 suggests that the intentions of Graham Henry in getting the Argentine team to score more tries is on the right track. Argentina now have the coming days to recover before taking on France in Córdoba next Saturday. A similar team is expected to field with some alterations. The possibility of players named for The Rugby Championship returning for this fixture are not too strong. Italy, meanwhile, travel to Toronto to face Canada on Friday.