Sanchez pulls strings as classy Argentina run in seven tries

Fly-half returns to guide Pumas to convincing victory over USA in Kumagaya and confirm their place at RWC 2023.

KUMAGAYA, 9 Oct - Nicolas Sanchez, the leading points scorer at Rugby World Cup 2015 but mysteriously surplus to requirements in Saturday's defeat by England, returned to Argentina's ranks to orchestrate a big win against USA.

Sanchez scored the opening try, kicked 10 points, and gave a convincing reprise of his influential role four years ago. 

Liberated by their 19-5 half-time lead, Argentina ran the ball at every opportunity in the second half, their pace and changes of direction proving too much for the Americans. 

It has been a frustrating campaign for Mario Ledesma's team, but this win at least confirms their place in France in four years' time.

"We expected the younger players to step up today and they delivered," said Ledesma. "Obviously, we are out of the World Cup but, with those guys, the future is looking good for Argentine rugby."

The big surprise was that neither side had scored before Sanchez broke the deadlock after 18 minutes. First, right-winger Bautista Delguy lost his footing with only USA full-back Mike Te'o to beat and then the TMO ruled out a try under the posts by scrum-half Felipe Ezcurra for obstruction.

USA also came close, pounding the Argentina line but missing what proved a rare opportunity when AJ MacGinty's pass went to ground.

When it arrived, the opening try underlined Argentina's counter-attacking prowess. Sanchez exchanged passes with Juan Cruz Mallia, the Player of the Match, and put his head down. Across came Te'o but Sanchez rolled out of a bulldozing tackle, pictured above, with the ball and touched down.

Six minutes later, Sanchez kicked ahead with his left foot, bamboozling Te'o with a cruel bounce and giving full-back Joaquin Tuculet an easy score.

Tuculet scored again 10 minutes later, taking Sanchez's pass and ducking under a high tackle from Paul Lasike.

Little had gone right for USA, but they cut the deficit when Lasike's run set up MacGinty for an exquisite grubber kick that Blaine Scully, the captain, touched down on the right. 

The result - and Argentina's bonus point - was settled when Mallia, below, popped over unopposed after 43 minutes. Four minutes later Sanchez sent Mallia scampering 40 metres for his second try. 

Jeronimo de la Fuente, sent clear by Santiago Carreras, joined in the fun with Argentina's sixth try, so it was to USA's credit that Lasike powered over for a well-merited touchdown.

There was still time, though, for replacement Gonzalo Bertranou to score Argentina's seventh try and Scully scored his second after the gong.   

"We did some good things with the ball but we also missed some opportunities," said Scully. "Unfortunately, in World Cup, you have to take every chance you get it because they don't come around too often."

Mallia highlighted the retirement of his team-mate Juan Manuel Leguizamón, who played his 87th and last test for Los Pumas. "We had a lot of things to play for today - the last match of 'Legu' (Leguizamon). He was a very important person for us and we played for him."

USA head coach Gary Gold said, "I'm just disappointed in the outcome but really proud of the effort from the guys."

RNS ns/ajr