A colossal battle in Nantes had everything as Pool D came to a crescendo
Mateo Carreras’s sublime hat-trick helped Argentina overcome a stubborn Japan and book a quarter-final date against Wales in Marseille next Saturday.
The Newcastle speedster simply couldn’t be stopped by the Brave Blossoms, who time and again fought their way back into the contest in search of successive quarter-final appearances after their heroics at home four years ago.
But it wasn’t meant to be in Jamie Joseph’s final game as coach, instead Michael Cheika’s Pumas will march on to face Warren Gatland’s Wales for a place in the final four after finishing as runners-up to England in Pool D.
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Toulouse’s Santiago Chocobares showed he is a master of brute force and ballet-like footwork by blasting his way through the Japanese midfield before side-stepping the final defender to get Argentina off to a perfect start after just two minutes.
Not to be outdone, Japan hit back with their own stunner. Lock Amato Fakatava has been listed as a centre on the World Rugby game and maybe they knew something we didn’t all along as the powerful tight forward went marauding down the wing before collecting his own kick to score an absolute worldie in the 16th minute.
That left the tie nicely poised at 7-7 before Argentina regained the lead with a scintillating Mateo Carreras try. Juan Cruz Mallia ruled the air before setting Gonzalo Bertranou away who found Carreras on the left wing to cap a phenomenal score.
Emiliano Boffelli eventually located his kicking boots, slotting a penalty to put Los Pumas 15-7 up with five minutes of the half remaining but once again the pendulum swung back to Japan, their No 11 Siosaia Fifita sold a beautiful dummy before executing a two-on-one to put scrum-half Naoto Saito in.
Rikiya Matsuda’s conversion meant the sides went in with just one point separating them at the break, Argentina leading 15-14.
Read more: Argentina Rugby World Cup squad
Argentina started the second half on top and with penalty advantage in the back pocket, eventually managed to smuggle the ball out to Carreras on the wing who did the rest.
Boffelli’s conversion stretched the lead to eight but a monster Lomano Lemeki drop-goal followed a Matsuda penalty as Japan clawed their way back to 22-20.
However, almost as soon as they had regained a foothold, the Brave Blossoms surrendered it after some breathless textbook backs play from Argentina put Boffelli in at the corner. He converted his own score to give the Pumas a nine-point cushion heading into the final quarter.
Cheika sent on experienced fly-half Nicolas Sanchez to try and close the game out but try-hero Carreras immediately coughed up the ball from a knock-on. Japan went left and right searching for an opening, perhaps centre Dylan Riley should have passed but eventually the try did come.
A spectacular finish from Jone Naikabula and terrific touchline conversion from Matsuda making it a two-point game again, much to the delight of the travelling supporters clad in red and white.
Related: Japan Rugby World Cup squad
But that lasted barely a minute as Carreras cut in sharply off the left wing before producing a brutal fend to seal his hat-trick in explosive fashion.
Japan were staring down the barrel and a 75th-minute Sanchez penalty put the Pumas out of reach, ending the Brave Blossoms’ hopes of returning to the knockout phase once again.