LONDON, 23 Oct - Argentina have powered into the Rugby World Cup 2015 semi-finals, and after five matches already have more points (222) and tries (26) than at any of their previous seven RWCs, including 2007 when they played two more matches and finished third.
Some would attribute this to the standard of pool opposition in Georgia, Tonga and Namibia, but that argument overlooks a tight match against defending RWC champions New Zealand and a quarter-final contest against reigning Six Nations champions Ireland.
Efficient in possession
Examination of scoring at RWC 2015 showed that Argentina have turned their possession into points more efficiently than any other team, scoring 0.88 points per one per cent of their possession, a rate that only the All Blacks (0.87) get close to among the semi-finalists.
The scoring power has come from Argentina's back three of Juan Imhoff, Santiago Cordero (pictured above) and Joaquin Tuculet, who have claimed 10 of the Pumas' 26 tries at RWC 2015 and has turned the Argentina backline into a huge attacking threat.
They started just one match together before RWC 2015, a 26-12 defeat by South Africa in Buenos Aires a few weeks before the tournament started, where all the Pumas' points came from the boot of Nicolas Sanchez. But against Australia, Imhoff, Cordero and Tuculet will become Argentina's most-selected back-three in RWC history with their fifth start together.
|Left (11)||Right (14)||Full-back (15)||Matches||RWC|
|Juan Imhoff||Santiago Cordero||Joaquín Tuculet||4||2015|
|Horacio Agulla||Lucas Borges||Ignacio Corleto||4||2007|
|Horacio Agulla||Gonzalo Camacho||Martin Rodriguez Gurruchaga||3||2011|
|Diego Albanese||Gonzalo Camardon||Ignacio Corleto||3||1999|
So why is the Pumas' back three so dangerous? Firstly, they have all represented Argentina in Sevens and they are more than happy to identify space, get the ball and run. All three are in the tournament's top 20 list of players with most clean breaks with Imhoff on 10, Cordero seven and Tuculet six. All three are also in the tournament's top 10 list of players with most metres made with Cordero making 348 metres, Tuculet 330 and Imhoff 306. They have consistently beat defenders, turned them around and had them running back towards their own posts.
Juan Imhoff is the eldest of the trio at 27. Discounting his appearances in the South American Rugby Championship, his test career as a try scorer has burst spectacularly into life in 2015. In his fifth year of elite test rugby for Argentina he has scored more than 50 per cent of his tries: eight of 14. This comprises the first hat-trick by an Argentina player against one of the southern hemisphere's 'big three' - during the 37-25 win against South Africa in August - plus his five tries at RWC 2015, which is also an Argentina record.
Breaking the line is all about timing, and Imhoff's run off Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe to break open the All Blacks was a perfect example of the art. It would have earned a second try for the Pumas without some spoiling on the floor from Conrad Smith.
Joaquin Tuculet is both slightly younger and slightly less experienced at test level than Imhoff, but he has been a regular fixture under head coach Daniel Hourcade. In 21 major tests since June 2014, Tuculet has made 18 starts at full-back. He recovered his try-scoring touch at RWC 2015 after a drought in tests since the end of the 2014 Rugby Championship.
Good full-backs track attacking plays in support, and Argentina's first try against Tonga showed why. Prop Ramiro Herrera burst into the Tonga 22, but a double tackle from Kurt Morath and Sione Piukala would have ended his charge without support from Tuculet, who tracked the run and allowed the prop to produce a brilliant one-handed offload out of the tackle.
Despite other strong contenders, Argentina's RWC 2015 breakthrough player is 21-year-old winger Santiago Cordero. He starred in the Pumitas squad that finished fourth at the 2012 Junior World Championship and made his test debut while still a teenager against England in 2013, but probably wouldn't have been first choice at RWC 2015 without the absence of Gonzalo Camacho and Manuel Montero. Cordero's speed, elusive running and awareness of space have provided a constant wide threat for Argentina.
After an amazing break that started with a dextrous pirouette down the right-side five-metre channel which gave him a second try against Georgia, Cordero's kick-off return break against Tonga, just seconds after Argentina had gone 10-8 ahead, was a breathtaking example of quick footwork in a limited space.
He caught the ball in his own 22, looked up, ran around Fetu'u Vainikolo in the five-metre channel, then took off down the line. He stepped inside one defender to go through halfway, then another, before offloading to Guido Petti well inside Tonga's half. With Petti tackled just outside Tonga's 22, Cordero cleared out the tackler, which allowed Juan Martin Hernandez to quickly get the ball wide for a six-on-three overlap that Imhoff finished.
With Argentina's back three hunting as a unit, Australia will have to stifle the Pumas' possession in their RWC 2015 semi-final at Twickenham on Sunday, or their 'finishers' may just finish Australia's RWC hopes.