They began the tournament with a respectable defeat to New Zealand, then showed their class in beating Georgia 54-9, and now it is make or break time for Argentina as they face Tonga in a clash which has a massive bearing on who will qualify for the World Cup quarter-finals from Pool C.
The All Blacks are odds-on to top the pool, and Tonga sit second at the moment, just one bonus point ahead of the Pumas. Whoever manages to pick up their second win of the tournament on Sunday (2.30pm, Leicester City Stadium), will almost certainly claim the runners-up spot. There is no previous form to help the coaches, as these two teams have never met before, so what do Argentina need to do to ensure they reach the knock-out stage for the third World Cup in succession?
Believe in themselves
When they played Georgia in Gloucester last Friday, Argentina only led 14-9 at half-time and it looked like the ding-dong battle of the first half would continue after the break. However, Argentina began the second period like men possessed, forced Georgia captain Mamuka Gorgodze to commit a professional foul on his own line and while he was in the sin-bin they ran in three tries in six minutes and had another disallowed by the TMO.
Three more tries in the final quarter extended the winning margin and meant the Pumas scored 40 unanswered points in the second half – so why were they so much more effective than in the first half?
Skipper Agustin Creevy said: “Lots of things were said (at half-time). The wise words were to relieve the pressure, relax and to do what we do best and play rugby and that’s what was in our minds.”
Try-scoring scrum-half Tomas Cubelli added: “Today we won because we are a solid team that believes in itself and that, despite adversity, remains confident in what we have. We can generate good rugby and so we did.”
Watch Argentina’s superb second-half performance v Georgia here.
Force Tonga onto the back foot
Argentina made a game of it against New Zealand by carrying the ball strongly into contact, retaining possession and forcing their opponents to back-pedal. They need to do the same against a Tonga outfit which has missed around a quarter of its tackles per match on average at this World Cup.
The Pumas showed against Georgia that they have dangerous attacking weapons in the shape of wings Juan Imhoff and Santiago Cordero, who scored two tries each during that second-half blitz, so if they can get quick ball, this duo could do a lot of damage.
“When you want a dynamic game you need the speed,” said Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade. “When opportunities come up our two wings are very fast. This is very important.”
Creevy said his team’s ability to generate quick ball was critical to the win over Georgia. “In the second half we kept the ball and we were very dynamic. We played well and had fun and that was the reason why we got so many points.”
The team translated their work on the training ground into success on the pitch that day, and need a repeat on Sunday. “Getting quick ball and having attacking opportunities is something we have been working on for some time and we feel very happy,” said Hourcade.
Restrict Tonga’s chances
Argentina have conceded an average of 12 penalties per match at this World Cup so far, and more than half of those have been in their own half, so handing a potential three points to their opponents.
Tonga missed 11 points from the kicking tee in Tuesday’s 35-21 win over Namibia, but full-back Vunga Lilo, who was taking the kicks, is not their normal marksman so the Pumas can’t count on a repeat of that carelessness.
Kurt Morath became Tonga’s top points-scorer of all time after coming off the bench against Namibia in Exeter and landing a penalty to take his career total to 318 (past Raymond Hola’s 317). Morath is back in the starting line-up for Sunday, so Tonga will be better placed to keep the scoreboard ticking over if Argentina don’t improve their discipline.
Get the basics right
Tonga have retained 100% of their scrum ball so far in the tournament, so Argentina will need to use their prowess there to gain any advantage. Both teams have been solid in the lineout but Argentina need to tighten up their tackling, as they have missed an average of 34 tackles per match. The fact they have played New Zealand, while Tonga haven’t yet met the tournament favourites, will have skewed that statistic, but Tonga have plenty of attacking strength, with dangerous runners like wing Telusa Veainu, who scored two tries against Namibia and made 193 metres with the ball and so can punish missed tackles.
Argentina go into Sunday’s game with a young centre partnership, Jeronimo De La Fuente and Matias Moroni, who have not played a Test in tandem before, but in a long tournament Juan Martin Hernandez and Marcelo Bosch can’t start every game, so the onus is on the new pair to step up to the plate and prove there is depth in this squad.
Give the fans something to sing about
Despite economic problems at home, Argentina fans have flown across the globe in their thousands to support their team and they really got behind them during the second half against Georgia at Kingsholm, jumping up and down in the grandstands as well as the Shed, singing, chanting and celebrating as each try went in.
Prop Marcos Ayerza said: “We weren’t expecting so many fans from Argentina and this was really important, especially at key moments of the game, and we could feel the crowd behind the team.”
Skipper Creevy said the atmosphere in the close confines of Kingsholm was even better than when they had played in front of nearly 90,000 fans at Wembley a few days earlier. “Today was like playing in an Argentinian stadium full of Argentina fans cheering us on. This was very beautiful. The fans helped us in this game. They were pushing us forward.”
If Creevy and his team can give their supporters something to sing about early in the game on Sunday, they will undoubtedly out-shout the Tongan fans.
For all the latest Rugby World subscription offers, click here.