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Pumas the surprise package

Classic Lions 19

Classic Pumas 25

In a final surprise in a World Rugby Classic full of them, Argentina pulled off the biggest shock of all to claim their first title in more than a decade.

Little more than 24 hours after beating Canada in a pulsating semi-final the Pumas were at it again on Saturday night and this time it was the Classic Lions who fell victim to the South Americans’ own unique mix of aggression and flair.

Happy to fling the ball around with the elan normally associated with France, Argentina also battled for everything up front and against a one-dimensional Lions side, that was enough.

Once again lock Juan Campero, a candidate for player of the tournament, and Julio Brolese were imperious at the breakdown, as was Alejandro Galli. And while their tactics weren’t always entirely legal they created enough disruption that the Lions’ attacks were slow, laboured and mostly disjointed.

Galli spent five minutes in the sin bin either side of half-time for his persistent infringing at the ruck but the penalty that mattered most was conceded by Colin Charvis, the Lions flanker, and gave Argentina a lifeline when they looked all but dead on their feet.

Leading 19-17 with little more than seven minutes remaining, the Lions were defending desperately inside their own 22 having dominated for much of the second half when Charvis was pinged right in front of the posts.

With a misfiring line-out and no quarantee that their scrum would work either, Argentina opted to do the one thing that is frowned upon at the Classic, they kicked the penalty to earn themselves a narrow one-point lead.

Tired, bruised and running on empty, Frederico Todeschini’s successfull kick, with boos ringing in his ears, breathed new life into the Pumas and they attacked the Lions with relish, launching one bone-crunching hit after another before a turnover deep into injury time saw Sebastian Crispo go in at the corner for his side’s fourth try of the evening.

“Yes, I am delighted, it is our first win since 1999 and we’re very happy, very glad,” Rodolfo Ventura, the Argentina manager said. “We did our best, we played with our heart, that’s one of (our) basics, and honestly, I think we deserved this title.

“The heart got us through, that’s the strongest weapon we have, our hearts. I think we lost a bit of control of the match, but we had the last chance and we took it.”

Ultimately the difference between the two sides was that Argentina took their chances, while the Lions, who dominated the line-out, but very little else, didn’t. Unwilling and unable to go wide for most of the evening, when they did the Lions more often than not blew their opportunities, most noteably twice when they were 19-17 up and any score would have killed the game.

The most egregious mistake the Lions made was when they created a five on two overlap ten metres from the try line and failed to score because Mark Blair’s pass to cut out the last Argentina defender went to ground.

Blair and David Corkery had also missed out on an opportunity moments earlier but the fact that the Lions often found forwards where backs should have been merely highlighted the failings in their game plan on Saturday.

Things might have been different if the Lions had opted to kick any of the numerous penalties that Argentina conceded, but they didn’t, and while Malcolm O’Kelly dominated at the line-out the ball they won at the set-piece rarely progressed beyond three or four phases before the Lions ran out of ideas.

When the ball did come out the first receiver bashed it up the middle, and this was repeated ad infinitum until the ball was knocked on, turned over, or went out wide and was lost forward.

O’Kelly actually gave the Lions the lead when Argentina lost a line-out on their own five metre line and the big Irishman flopped on top of the ball with only five minutes gone. Gomersall added the extras but that was the end of the Lions’ scoring in the first half.

Argentina took over after that, and with Leandro Lobrauco, the scrum half, and Todeschini pulling the strings in midfield, ran in three tries in the space of 13 minutes through Diego Giannantonio, Galli and Santiago van der Ghote. In contrast to the Lions, Argentina’s ball handling was assured, quick and combined with their varied angles of attack, devestating.

Van der Ghote’s try, which put Argentina 17-7 ahead, came after a five-minute spell of sustained Lions pressure when they were camped inside the Pumas 22 but could not find a way past a determined Argentina side who defended like their lives depended on it. Even when half a gap appeared it was shut quickly by forwards or backs, and the defensive work of Crispo and his fellow centre Pertile was just as important as their attacking.

A man up at the start of the second half the Lions battled back and when Argentina missed a first-up tackle inside their own 22, Stuart Mofatt ploughed through the middle, the Lions got some quick ball out wide and Gordon Bulloch, the hooker, dived over in the corner.

Gomersall’s conversion made it 14-17 to Argentina and that quickly became 19-17 to the Lions when Argentina were penalised again inside their own 22, Paul Jones took a quick tap penalty and James Topping found his way over in the corner.

The Lions should have gone on to win from there but they failed to take their opportunities when they came and Todeschini’s penalty meant they were chasing the game with a backline that didn’t seem capable of the task at hand. In a week of shocks and late wins it was fitting that Crispo and Argentina should have the final say, leaving the Lions searching for their first win since 2008.

“I’m very disappointed but I have to take my hat of to the Argentinians, they dug deep, they really they should have been on their knees,” Allan Martin, the Lions manager said. “I think after our (third) try we took our foot off the gas a bit and then they started to believe that they could win it.

“I admire what they have done because they did it the hard way, they stuck to it, they kept coming and coming and picking up all the scraps and, in rugby terms, you’ve just got to say ‘well done’.

“They wanted it more than we did tonight I think. We were a little bit below par and really that’s it, I can’t say any more, just well done Argentina.”

Pumas players celebrate with their own take on the haka after defeating the Classic Lions in the World Rugby Classic final on Saturday night. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

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Published November 14, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 14, 2011 at 8:12 am)

Pumas the surprise package

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