Fly-half Nicolas Sanchez showed Argentina what they had been missing with a masterful first-half performance Wednesday, as the eliminated Pumas restored some pride with a 47-17 win against the United States at the Rugby World Cup.
Sanchez was controversially left out of the matchday 23 for the crunch match against England last Saturday, which Argentina lost 39-10, resulting in their first pool-stage exit since 2003.
But the Stade Francais playmaker ran the show against the United States in Kumagaya, getting Argentina off the mark after a cagey first 20 minutes by outpacing US fullback Mike Te’o to the line.
As Sanchez sparkled, and veteran back-row Juan Manuel Leguizamon made his 87th and last appearance for Argentina, coach Mario Ledesma also chose to blood a group of young players.
“That was incredible. We really expected that [performance] from them and they delivered and we knew they would. Obviously we are out of the World Cup but with these guys, the future is looking good for Argentinian rugby,” Ledesma said.
“They were playing for somebody very special today [Leguizamon] and I’m really happy he had the farewell he deserved,” he added.
Sanchez was also instrumental in the second try, a carefully weighted chip over the American backs resulting in a cruel bounce that deceived Te’o and allowed Puma fullback Joaquin Tuculet to dot down.
Tuculet grabbed the third as well, again made by Sanchez who pulled in several defenders, leaving the US short of numbers out wide and giving the fullback a one-on-one that he took with ease.
On the stroke of half-time, the Eagles had a score of their own, a nicely weighted kick by fly-half AJ MacGinty chased over the goal line by captain Blaine Scully, who celebrated by spiking the ball down American football-style.
But the more-fancied Pumas extended their advantage just four minutes into the second half, a mazy run by Bautista Delguy from behind his own try-line setting up position for centre Juan Cruz Mallia to crash over under the posts for the bonus point.
‘Very dangerous team’
With nothing to lose, Argentina were playing a highly entertaining brand of free-flowing rugby and slicing through American defences seemingly at will. Mallia was through again under the posts eight minutes into the second half.
On the other hand, the United States were being let down by their set-piece, losing ball at two line-outs in a row, resulting in the sixth Argentina try from Jeronimo de la Fuente, his first in 25 Tests.
The USA scored two consolation tries through Paul Lasike and an injury-time effort by Scully but never looked like troubling the Pumas, who have never lost to the Eagles in their eight-match history.
Replacement Gonzalo Bertranou put the icing on the Argentina cake with a seventh score after the Pumas had again carved up a defensively questionable US midfield.
The match ended a disappointing World Cup for the Pumas, who could consider themselves unlucky to suffer a last-minute 23-21 defeat to France in their first match but were let down by indiscipline against England, losing a man to a red card.
As for the US, they will be targeting their one winnable match in Pool C as they take on Tonga on Sunday in an attempt to avoid the wooden spoon in the ‘group of death’.
“Argentina is a very dangerous team when you give up possession and unfortunately we had too many turnovers,” Scully said.