Preview: Argentina v Tonga
WORLD CUP POOL MATCH: Argentina know their World Cup rests on a must-win game against Tonga in Osaka on Saturday.
Semi-finalists in 2007 and 2015, the Pumas started their Pool C campaign with a heartbreaking 21-23 loss to France.
Argentina were 3-20 behind at the break only to stage a dramatic second-half rally and take a one-point lead before a drop goal from Camille Lopez condemned them to an agonising defeat.
England, who’ve beaten both Tonga and the United States in their opening two matches, are expected to top Pool C and take one of the two quarter-final places on offer.
That means Argentina realistically require a bonus-point win over the Pacific islanders this weekend if they are to deprive France of the second qualifying spot.
“What pains us is how well we played in one half and how badly in the other, knowing all the time that we are perfectly capable of playing 80 minutes of high-intensity, intelligent and fast rugby,” said Argentina centre Jeronimo de la Fuente.
“We are fully aware of how important the clash with France was, and it hurt to lose. We are fully confident that we will show up against Tonga, and against England and the USA afterwards.”
‘Stars are aligned’
Meanwhile, Argentina coach Mario Ledesma insisted all was not lost for his side.
“We must do what we set out to do,” Ledesma said.
“Against France, we didn’t in the first 40 minutes, so this time we must remain focused and overcome our mistakes. The most dangerous teams are the ones who aren’t afraid to make mistakes.”
Pumas captain Pablo Matera added: “If we are talking about confidence, the team stands firm and tall, because what we did during the second half with France we can always replicate.”
Tonga were well beaten 3-35 by England in their opening match of this World Cup, with the defeat made worse by the fact both centre Nafi Tuitavake (arm) and flyhalf Kurt Morath (throat) suffered tournament-ending injuries.
Their last World Cup match against Argentina, a 16-45 loss in England four years ago, literally left its mark on some Tonga players.
“I don’t remember much, but I remember this,” said flank Sione Kalamafoni, pointing to a scar on his right knee.
“It’s from that game.”
Meanwhile, Siale Piutau, the Tonga captain, took heart from their gutsy performance against England and the fact Uruguay beat the odds to beat Fiji in the first upset of this World Cup.
“There was definitely a lot of good stuff [against England],” he said.
“The physicality was much improved from the previous game [a 92-7 warm-up loss to world champions New Zealand in Hamilton].”
As for facing Argentina, the centre added: “It will be another physical battle come Saturday. The scrum and line-out is also our strength and if we can match them I think we will have a good platform.”
And turning to Uruguay’s 30-27 win of Fiji, Piutau said: “We have seen there is a chance there. Once the stars are aligned there’s a wonderful opportunity for us.”
Players to watch:
For Argentina: Flyhalf Benjamin Urdapilleta has to be in fine form when he takes the spot of regular No.10 Los Pumas legend Nicholas Sanchez. While the backline certainly looks world-class, in the pack captain Pablo Matera and lock Tomas Lavanini are the ones that could be a challenge for Tonga.
For Tonga: The physical pack of Tonga have a few names like Maama Vaipulu and Sam Louisi that need to be closely monitored. The reshuffled backline could also pose a problem. Fullback Telusa Veainu, who plays for Premiership side Leicester Tigers, will provide the x-factor while No.10 James Faiva is also set to play an integral part.
Head to head: Tonga’s physical front row will certainly be out to overpower and bully Argentina upfront. While the loose trio battle between Tomas Lezana, Marcos Kremer, and Pablo Matera against Tonga’s Maama Vaipulu, Zane Kapeli and Sione Kalamafoni will be an intriguing match-up. Flyhalf is another encounter that will be vital during this match. Tonga’s James Faiva and Los Pumas Benjamin Urdapilleta both are new to the starting line-up, so how they find their feet will be interesting to watch.
2015: Argentina won 45-15, Leicester City (World Cup pool match)
Prediction: Giving their defeat to France, Los Pumas will be desperate to redeem themselves and an injured animal is a dangerous one. Adding the extra advantage are of the sunny conditions, thus Argentina will comfortably win this by 15 points.
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Santiago Carreras, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Tomas Lezana, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Nicolas Sanchez, 23 Bautista Delguy.
Tonga: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Villiami Lolohea, 13 Malietoa Hingano, 12 Siale Piutau (captain), 11 David Halaifonua, 10 James Faiva, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Zane Kapeli, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Halalevu Fifita, 4 Sam Louisi, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Paula Ngauamo, 1 Siegfried Fisiíhoi.
Replacements: 16 Sosefo Sakalia, 17 Vunipola Fifita, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Sitiveni Mafi, 20 Nasi Manu, 21 Leon Fukofuka , 22 Latiume Fosita, 23 Cooper Vuna.
Date: Saturday, September 28
Venue: Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Higashiosaka City
Kick-off: 13.45 (01.45 Argentina time; 04.45 GMT; 17.45 Tonga time)
Expected weather: Mainly sunny with rain at night, a high of 27°C, dropping to 21°C
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)