Saturday, November 10, 2012

Corcho celebrates 50th cap with monumental victory over Wales

Photo UAR: Martín Sera Lima. 

The credentials of Argentina as a possible future Rugby World Cup Champion took a boost today as Los Pumas completed a 26-12 victory over the undisputed European Champions and did so at the Millenium Stadium. It was a result to underline Argentina as a rugby nation now and a rare example of one that the rugby world can genuinely have big hopes for in the future. 

The quest for rugby to have more teams in the Top Tier is commonly shared by players, unions and fans alike. It is the quest of the IRB to have better Rugby World Cup´s and a lot of money has been invested into seeing this happen. However the development of Tier Two teams is not a simple excercise. While the likes of the USA, Georgia, Samoa and Tonga have clearly improved over the past five years the same is not true of other Tier Two sides. More importantly, while they have improved they have not improved enough as most Tier One unions have stronger teams now than five years ago. 

The gap has overall remained largely unchanged meaning that the investments have helped the Tier Two unions improve in comparison to the Second Tier but not enough to be threats at Rugby World Cup´s. While Argentina was a Semi Finalist at Rugby World Cup 2007 it got there without any help from the IRB. It developed thanks to a solid amateur system in Buenos Aires and the exposure of players to professionalism, mainly in England and France.

In order to consolidate and ensure that Argentina would be campable of repeating that in future Rugby World Cup´s the IRB invested significant resources in the PladAR program. It has helped identify and train the leading domestic players in Argentina. Countless of these players have gone on to play in Europe and many of them featured today against Wales. Five of the starting XV were a part of the 2011 Vodacom Cup Champions  while a further five have also played for Los Pampas XV. The program has, no doubt, helped solidift Argentina and ensure it will have a very competitive team for Rugby World Cup 2015.

Both sides were playing their first match of November and neither side was at full strength. Wales was missing Adam Jones, Ryan Jones and Dan Lydiate to injury while Argentina had lost Rodrigo Roncero to retirement and was missing Patricio Albacete, Mariano Galarza, Rafael Carballo and Martín Rodríguez Gurruchaga to injury.

The loss of Rodríguez Gurruchaga was compounded by Argentina´s inability to call upon eleven French based players who were instead on club duty this weekend in the Top 14. He has started at either inside centre or fullback for Argentina, the same positions occupied by  Lucas González Amorosino, Marcelo Bosch and Santiago Fernández, three players who were playing club rugby in France. Eight others were unavaliable for the same reason, including three props.This led to a surprize recall for Juan Gómez but the former Leeds Carnegie prop did well in his return tot he test arena. 

Phelan had initially not selected Felipe Contepomi which meant that the 35 year old´s test career was over. But without Rodríguez Gurruchaga, Bosch and Fernández there was a recall for Contepomi and he started alongside Gonzalo Tiesi who was also returning after not playing test rugby since Rugby World Cup 2011. Tiesi had a memorable return, particularly in defense. He came close to scoring a first half try but it was not to be. It would have been the only try of the half.

Contepomi´s return was very unfortunate. He was forced from the field with knee ligament damage in the 13th minute after his knee folded under the weight of an opponent in a ruck. It forced a reshuffle as Joaquin Tuculet came on at fullback and Juan Martín Hernández moved to centre to join Tiesi. Wales were also not lucky with injuries as Jamie Roberts and Alyn Wyn-Jones were both forced from the field. 

The game was played under a closed roof but the conditions were far from being dry. The pitch was torn up under the weight of scrums and both teams were guilty of too many knock-on´s. After a dull first half Argentina came to life to complete its biggest victory under the leadership of Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe. The Toulon backrower, known as Corcho was man of the match due to his all around performance which saw him competing well for the ball at the breakdown, working well in the lineout, acting as a reliable tackler and also a ball carrier. His off-load to Juan Imhoff was the turning point in the match. Argentina had been the better side but until Imhoff´s score it had been quite a sloppy match as all chances or half-chances had failed to create points. Wales was leading 12-9 before the try. Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny had kicked four penalties for Wales while Contepomi had kicked one, and Pumas flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez had kicked a dropgoal and a penalty. 

The reliable Halfpenny was outclassed by Imhoff as the Racing Métro winger showed a good step to his left to get passed the Cardiff Blues fullback. Halfpenny is expected to start for the British & Irish Lions in 2013 and as such the non-selection of Imhoff during the Rugby Championship appeared to be a big mistake. The try was created by Juan Manuel Leguizamón who attacked the line and after getting a half break he offloaded to Corcho who similarly found Imhoff. Great pace and a sidestep was crucial and the conversion from Nicolás Sánchez made it 16-12.

Five minutes later Leguizamón and Imhoff were involved again. Leguizamón took the ball to within five metres with the referee having awarded Los Pumas with advantage. The ball was spun with Imhoff offloading in the tackle to Joaquin Tuculet who passed long to Gonzalo Camacho who took it with one hand and got around Halfpenny to touch down in the corner. Sánchez was again on target with a wide attempt and Argentina was ahead 23-12. The Bordeaux-Begles flyhalf would then score a late dropgoal in what was the only other score of the match. 

Today´s match also underlined Argentina as the correct choice to host Rugby World Cup 2023. Wales is set to act as a subhost for the fourth time in Rugby World Cup history in 2015. The stadium had over 20,000 empty seats. The need to have a greater distribution of tournament´s could not be clearer. This means no repeat of previous host nations, unless it is absolutely essencial. Global rugby needs more host nations but the options are not as sizeable as some people realize.

While both Italy and Russia have shown interest in hosting a Rugby World Cup neither has been a Semi Finalist or Quarter Finalist previously. Russia lacks a record of strong attendances and although Italy has improves greatly band has taken matches away from Rome, unlike most Six Nations counterparts and their capital cities, it is behind Argentina in terms of the strength of the national side and overall support for home matches. It is yet to win away against Wales in the Six Nations while Argentina´s win today makes a strong case for hosting Rugby World Cup 2023 even stronger.

Match Highlights

Full Match

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