Pumas remain on course for third straight title
The Classic Pumas stand on the verge of securing a third straight World Rugby Classic title after booking their place in the final with a hard-fought 16-10 victory over a spirited Italy side last night.
Having come into the tournament as favourites, Argentina were made to work for their progression, having to wait until the second half to stamp their authority on the encounter as the Italians limited the defending champions to just two tries and gave them a late scare in the closing moments.
However, Rodolfo Ventura's side held firm to see out the match and book their place in another final where they will meet either the Irish Rugby Legends or the Classic Springboks who meet tonight.
“We were a little lucky to reach the final once again,” Ventura, the Pumas manager, said. “We were not as precise as I would have liked and there are things to improve on for the final.
“Italy put us under some strong pressure and they played a very effective game. We were poor in the first half and then were put under a lot of pressure towards the end, but thankfully they did not score.
“We had to wait until the second half to really take control, but fortunately we had the resources to get the result.
“We are close, but still far away from that third title. Ireland and the Springboks are both very strong and we will have to be at our very best against either of them. To win would give us all great satisfaction, but nothing is guaranteed yet, there is still a lot of work to do.”
After a fairly even start to the encounter, it was Italy who broke the deadlock through a precisely struck 30-yard penalty from the boot of Ramiro Pez.
The setback appeared to jolt Argentina into life and after a prolonged period of pressure in the right corner, the Pumas finally breached the dogged Italian defensive line in the 25th minute as full back Roman Miralles managed to bundle his way over the line.
Gonzalo Gutierrez Taboada was unfortunate to see his conversion crash back off the post as Argentina took a slender 5-3 lead into the interval.
As in the opening 30 minutes, it was Italy who started in the ascendancy, but Pez could not capitalise on a difficult penalty opportunity four minutes after the restart, sending his effort narrowly wide.
Where Pez spurned his chance, his opposite number Taboada seized on a 35-yard penalty opportunity five minutes later, sending his kick straight through the posts to extend Argentina's lead to 8-3.
Taboada again proved his kicking consistency after 48 minutes, this time successfully adding a 30-yard attempt to extend his side's advantage to 11-3.
Just a minute later, man-of-the-match Taboada turned provider, receiving the ball after a flowing move from left to right, before offloading to Agustin Lopez Isnardi to score in the right corner. Taboada sent the difficult conversion narrowly wide as the score stood at 16-3 with ten minutes remaining.
As the clock wound down, Italy brought themselves to within a converted try, reducing the deficit to 16-10 as hooker Giacomo Rigonelli charged down an attempted kick, before pouncing on the blocked ball to score in the left corner. Pez sent the conversion straight through the posts to set up a nervy final few moments. However, there was to be no dramatic comeback as they had done against Canada in the semi-finals as Argentina held firm to progress through to a third successive final.
Meanwhile, in the first Plate semi-final Classic Rugby France overcame Rugby Canada with a narrow 8-5 victory in what proved a heated encounter.
France were guilty of ill-discipline in the very first minute as lock William Gozzi was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle.
Just nine minutes later, they were reduced to 13-men as fellow lock Sylvian Changeat was also shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on.
With Gozzi back on the field, but with France still down to 14-men, Canada spurned a golden opportunity to break the deadlock as Derek Daypuck sent a seemingly simple penalty wide of the posts.
To make matters worse, France, back to full strength, scored the game's first try in the 21st minute.
The impressive Yannick Lafforgue was perfectly positioned to race on to a chipped pass to score in the bottom right corner. Lafforgue took responsibility with the conversion, but failed to capitalise leaving the score at 5-0.
Shortly after, Canada were handed chance to reduce the deficit with another penalty, but just as he did before, Daypuck spurned the opportunity again, sending the kick wide.
However, his team would find themselves level before the interval as John Moonlight set off on a probing run, brilliantly evading three tackles to crash over in the left corner. Daypuck's miserable evening with the boot continued as he missed the conversion, sending the sides in level at half-time.
With ten minutes remaining, the game remained finely poised, however, Daypuck would ultimately be left ruing his profligacy as France found the pivotal breakthrough.
It came with just two minutes remaining as Lafforgue, who had narrowly missed a penalty attempt four minutes earlier, sent the second attempt clean through the posts, just when it mattered most to edge his side ahead at 8-5.
As the match entered added time, Daypuck had one final chance at redemption, however, just as he had all evening, he failed to seize the moment, falling short with a desperate drop kick attempt, signalling the final whistle and France's progression into the Plate final.