Friday, December 13, 2013

Retro Friday - Classic Argentina v France Test from 2003

Velez Sarsfield hosted Argentina v France in 2003
A classic contest took place a decade ago in Buenos Aires in June 2003. In the second of two test matches Argentina defeated France 33-32 on June 20 to complete a series win over Les Bleus just months out from Rugby World Cup 2003.

Having won the first test, also in Buenos Aires by 10-6 Argentina was looking strong ahead of the World Cup in which the South Americans would open the tournament against the host nation, Australia. Also in the pool were Ireland, Namibia and Romania and despite both Argentina and Ireland having had success against Australia neither side was really thought of as having a realistic chance of winning. 

The match between Argentina and Ireland in Adelaide was thus looked at as being the tournament defining match for the two teams. They did not have an even chance at winning though due to the tournament organizers having put together a shocking match schedule which saw Australia face Ireland some six days after Argentina had played its final match. So unbalanced was the schedule that Argentina was eliminated before England had played its third match.

The tournament proved to be a benchmark of how not to organize a global event with France 2007, New Zealand 2011 and England & Wales 2015 all featuring modifications to ensure that no team would be forced to play four matches in fourteen days like was the case with Tonga at the same tournament. Italy was another given an unfair schedule and, like Argentina, it was eliminated a week before its opponent played its fourth pool match. 

The ARU wanted to maximize revenue by having Australia v Ireland in Melbourne and New Zealand v Wales in Sydney on the final weekend of pool play. To make this happen it requried for extremely questionable match schedules for other teams and the power wielded by the Five Nations and SANZAR on the IRB Council saw that opposition to the dates would come all too late. 

Four years after Rugby World Cup 2003 Argentina would win its group and do so with a balanced schedule in comparison to its Tier One rivals, which included France and Ireland. Argentina would defeat both teams with the win over France continuing Argentina´s dominance over Les Bleus at the time. Argentina had defeated France in 2002, 2003 and 2004 to have four wins in a row over the Europeans. The only loss was by one point in Paris in 2006. 

The match at the Stade de France was a highly competitive match which saw Argentina make a come back after France had started strongly. Time ran out though leaving short when the final whistle blew. Three years earlier in Buenos Aires something similar occured, only with the roles reversed. Argentina´s 33-32 home victory had season Los Pumas leading 21-12 at the interval and with France fighting back a genuine thriller saw the teams score a mountain of points in a match decided by a single point.

Starting at fullback was a young Juan Martín Hernández who was making his first start against a Tier One side. He had previously faced South American opponents and been a replacement against France the previous week. Hernández would score a well-worked try while José Orengo would also cross. France´s tries were scored by Yannick Jauzion and Pepito Elhorga while two dropgoals from Argentina proved the difference in determining the winner.

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