Argentina Shock Six Nations Champions On Their Own Turf
by Paul Cook –
While the Wallabies were fading dimly against France in the City of Light, their fellow Rugby Championship tourists were faring somewhat better in their own cross Hemisphere battles. Wins for New Zealand, South Africa and perhaps most notably, Argentina on the opening weekend of November internationals certainly didn’t help to diffuse the barbs being thrown at Robbie Deans and his troops after their Stade de France debacle.
Argentina went to one of the most daunting venues in world rugby in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff but played superbly to come away with a memorable 26-12 victory. It was their first win on Welsh soil since 2001 – ironically eleven years to the day – and it was earned off the back of a thrilling second half performance where they broke the Welsh apart to score the only two tries of the match. The scrum contest formed an interesting side plot to the opening stages of the game as both sides adjusted to the ‘crouch-touch-set’ experiment but most of the early attacking intent came from the Pumas who looked dangerousfrom broken field without unduly troubling the Welsh defence.
A tight first half played out through a battle of the boot to leave a half-time advantage of 9-6 to the Six Nations Champions but after the break, Los Pumas began to bite. A devastating line break in the 55th minute saw flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamon and irrepressible captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe combine to release winger Juan Imhoff to the posts.
Before Wales had time to digest that setback, they conceded again, Argentina working the ball wide before a tremendous one handed scoop and dive for the corner from Gonzalo Camacho was just reward for the winger’s fine display. With the Cardiff crowd in hushed nervousness, World Cup star Mike Phillips was thrust into the fray in the hope of generating some much needed spark but despite musteringsome pressure in the closing minutes, the Pumas saw out a famous win.
The hardest thing to fathom at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin was exactly who was who given Ireland’s change to an all black strip with green flashes set against South Africa’s dark green jersey. Add to that the fact that the two opposing hookers shared the same surname (Pretoria born Irish debutant Richardt Strauss is the cousin of Adriaan Strauss) and you could be forgiven for anyslight confusion. When battle commenced, it was ill discipline from the visitors that gave Ireland an early ascendancy through Jonathan Sexton’s boot as they bossed the breakdown and dominated possession and territory. A yellow card to JP Pietersen certainly didn’t help the Springbok cause but eleven penalties conceded tells its own story and they went to the sheds trailing 12-3.
However, they were straight on the front foot after the restart, using their rolling maul to apply pressure and force penalties from a retreating Irish pack and the result was a yellow card for home skipper Jamie Heaslip and a try under the posts from a darting Ruaan Pienaar. A Patrick Lambie penalty edged the Boks in front for the first time in the 52nd minute and there was no looking back from there as their defence held firm for a 16-12victory. Both sides will be all the better for this hit-out.
You wouldn’t have got very short odds on Scotland taking the lead against New Zealand at Murrayfield but if you were picking a first try scorer for the hosts, chances are Tim Visser would have been well in the frame. The Dutch born giant – ‘the Scottish Lomu’ as he has been christened – has been garnering rave reviews recently and his early intercept from a loose pass from Dan Carter won’t have done him any harm either but it merely acted as nuisance value to the All Blacks.
Carter made up for his uncharacteristic error by showing his genius to open up a gap for Israel Dagg to strike back before two great team moves either side of the half hour were finished off by Hurricanes wingers Julian Savea and Cory Jane respectively.
The All Blacks were simply too big and too strong across the park, consistently getting over the gain line as Scotland fell off tackles and couldn’t quite find the intensity needed to douse their opponents’ fire. Two tries either side of the break to Geoff Cross and a second for Visser, showed they wouldn’t die wondering as they narrowed the gap to 37-22 but again it was the brilliance of Carter who finished them off, a sublime crossfield kick into the path of Savea for his second, followed by a step and a scoring pass to centre Ben Smith. It finished 51-22, the All Blacks still have another couple of gears if necessary while Scotland will need to lift in defence before they take on the Springboks.
Elsewhere, England blew away the cobwebs in preparation for their clash with Australia by running out comfortable 54-12 winners. A penalty try helped them to a comfortable 25-0 half-time lead as Fiji struggled to contain their powerful pack but the Pacific Islanders showed enough resolve and application to cross for two consolations after the break. England rang the changes with one eye on Australia and despite adding a further four tries, the 54pts they ended up with could have been so much more with better execution. A decent start for the Red Rose but much improvement is needed if they hope to defeat the Southern Hemisphere heavyweights.
THIS WEEKEND’S FIXTURES (AET)
Wales v Samoa – Sat 6.30am
Italy v New Zealand – Sun 1am
England v Australia – Sun 1.30am
Scotland v South Africa – Sun 1.30am
France v Argentina – Sun 7am