Pumas take giant step towards last eight after seeing off Tonga 45-16

Football legend Diego Maradona joins Argentina's dressing-room celebrations following crucial Pool C win

LEICESTER, 4 Oct – Argentina have all but achieved their first goal at Rugby World Cup 2015, with victory over Tonga giving them a foothold in the quarter-finals.

Their next target has been set by none other than football legend Diego Maradona.

Success against Namibia in seven days will guarantee the Pumas a place in the last eight, while Tonga must upset reigning champions New Zealand on Friday and hope Argentina slip up if they are to claim second place.

Argentina’s most famous No 10 was at Leicester City Stadium on Sunday to see fly-half Nicolas Sanchez (pictured, centre) score 25 points with a try and eight successful kicks at goal as they recovered from a slow start against the ‘Ikale Tahi to triumph 45-16.

Their national hero joined in the dressing-room celebrations after the match, and vowed to return if Argentina make it to the semi-finals.

Dreaming with us

“He gave us a speech,” captain Agustin Creevy said. “He said the whole of Argentina was dreaming with us, everyone is behind us, supporting us, that was the reason he was here, he wanted to be a part of it.

“We danced and we played the Rodrigo song (La mano de dios (Hand of God), by Rodrigo Bueno). It was a lot of fun. It was beautiful.

“I could never have imagined he would have been there with us, it was a beautiful surprise for all of us. He said if we reach the semi-finals he will be there. He has set us a very high goal.”

Sanchez’s goal-kicking was a big part of the reason the Pumas are on track to keep their end of the bargain.

Kurt Morath scored a wonderful seventh-minute try to give Tonga a surprise lead before Joaquin Tuculet and Juan Imhoff went over in the space of three first-half minutes to seize control.

Sanchez’s accuracy with the boot stretched the lead to double figures after half-time while, conversely, Morath left 10 points on the field with missed attempts from good positions.

Growing in confidence

As his struggles continued and Argentina grew in confidence, Sanchez adding a well-worked try, Tonga opted to kick for touch instead of goal. They could not turn their pressure into points and Argentina ensured success, and a bonus point, eight minutes from time when Julian Montoya went over after a clever lineout routine.

There was still time for the fleet-footed Santiago Cordero to finish another flowing move as Sanchez, inevitably, added the extra points for both to take his RWC 2015 tally to 51.

Tonga captian Nili Latu felt those late points added a misleading gloss to the final score after a strong effort from the Pacific Islanders.

“We believed we were in the game until the 60th minute, but we let ourselves down with ball control and discipline that didn’t help us in crucial times,” Latu said.

“We got within three points after half-time and confidence was building. The scoreboard did not reflect the way the boys put their bodies on the line.”

RNS jth/drh/co/sw