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Pumas tame battling Lions

Close attention: Bermudian Corey Boyce, representing Italy, tries to force his way through the USA Classic Eagles defence in the World Rugby Classic at North Field, National Sports Centre, last night. The Eagles won 16-15 to advance to the Plate final tomorrow night(Photograph by Blaire Simmons

The Classic Pumas remain on course to retain their World Rugby Classic crown after taming the Classic Lions in a tumultuous semi-final at North Field last night.

Trailing 6-5 at the interval, the Argentinians rallied after the break with the kicking of Gonzalo Gutiérrez Taboada proving pivotal as two successful penalty attempts overturned the deficit to secure an 11-6 victory and his side’s passage into the final against the Irish Legends tomorrow.

Rodolfo Ventura, the Argentina manager, could not hide his relief after their hard-fought victory but spoke of his pride at seeing his side progress into a second successive Classic final.

“It was an incredibly tough game, but fortunately we managed to succeed,” he said. “We didn’t play anywhere near as well as we would have liked, but we keep on learning.

“It was a very passionate game and we knew this would perhaps be our hardest game of the entire tournament. Thankfully, we managed to win and I’m proud we can now try to win another title.”

The Pumas started brightly and they were rewarded for the early dominance as Gutiérrez received the ball after a misplaced Lions pass, to race clear and score the first unconverted try of the match putting his side 5-0 ahead.

After weathering a slight storm, the Lions roared back and reduced the deficit to 5-3 with well-struck penalty goal from Ceri Sweeney.

That turned the tide in the Lions’ favour with a prolonged period of pressure resulting in two further penalty awards.

Sweeney failed to capitalise on the first, firing narrowly wide of the posts from 40 yards, but he made amends in the dying seconds of the first half, with his sweetly struck effort sailing between the posts to gift his side a 6-5 advantage going into the break.

However, it was an advantage the Lions could not maintain after the restart as the Pumas controlled much of the second half.

An uncharacteristic miskick from Gutierrez resulted in him spurning a seemingly simple penalty opportunity in the 32nd minute before an entirely more successful effort only two minutes later yielded conversion to edge Argentina into an 8-6 lead.

In what proved a fiery affair throughout, tempers boiled over from the end of the first half into the second, resulting in Federicio Luis Castilla receiving a yellow card and time in the sin-bin. Despite the numerical disadvantage, the Pumas further extended their lead with ten minutes remaining as Gutierrez duly accepted another penalty opportunity to take the score to 11-6.

Needing at least a try to overturn the deficit, Lions once again rallied in the final seconds, taking the ball from their own tryline to within sight of victory.

However, they could not make the mounting pressure count, as the Pumas held firm to halt the late Lions charge and confirm their place in the final.

Reflecting on the narrow defeat, Lions manager Allan Martin was left to rue a missed opportunity.

“We did everything but score,” he said. “We are massively disappointed because we had periods where we dominated, but the Pumas are a very good outfit and ultimately took their opportunities.

“We did everything we could do and it could have been a different outcome, but we just didn’t get the breaks and that’s what it’s all about.

“We didn’t take the chances when they came and our opportunity faded away. It could have gone either way and of course we would have loved to have gone through, but we just fell short.”

The USA Eagles reached their first Plate final after edging past Rugby Italian Classic XV 16-15 at North Field in the first game.

The Eagles, who were thumped 41-7 by the Classic Pumas in their opening game, bounced back with a gutsy win over Italy in a hard-fought semi-final. Italy missed a chance to take the lead when fly half Paz Ramiro pulled a penalty goal attempt wide early on.

The US were able to capitalise with a try through wing Max Statler, although fly half Maximo de Achaval could not find his range from a difficult conversion. De Achaval soon made amends, though, when he kicked a penalty before Ramiro responded in kind with a successful penalty of his own to close the gap.

The US made it 11-3 before the interval when Nese Malifa powered his way through for his side’s second try. Italy forced their way back into the game thanks to a penalty try before storming into a 15-11 lead after a Boscolo Alessandro caught a lineout and bundled his way over the line.

Despite finding themselves in the uncomfortable position of chasing the game for the first time, US refused to wilt and reclaimed the lead through another try from Statler to seal the win.