Poor start kills Pumas' high hopes on biggest stage

Mario Ledesma's team arrived with great expectations but they are heading home, unable to recover from a dreadful first half of their first game against France.

TOKYO, 11 Oct - Argentina's 47-17 victory over the United States in their final match drew the biggest smile from the Pumas at Rugby World Cup 2019, but the team captained by Pablo Matera, pictured above centre celebrating a try against France, had arrived with far higher expectations after their fine performance at RWC 2015.

Head coach

Mario Ledesma has been in charge for just over 18 months and it is fair to say that he might have needed more time on the international stage. He has spent a season at the helm of the Jaguares, however, coaching many of the same players.

Ledesma was unable to explain why the team didn't rise to the challenge. There were few answers from Nicolas Sanchez, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Julian Montoya, Agustin Creevy, Santiago Carreras or Ramiro Moyano - none made enough impact to inspire a squad that lacked depth.

Player of the tournament

Guido Petti showed he is a master of the lineout, from where most of Argentina's best moves originated. Determination, character and an unusual physical display for a second-row made him one of the stars. Marcos Kremer also performed well in both the second and back row and four-try forward Julian Montoya was a close third. Creevy, a former captain, leaves an indelible mark having won a record 89th cap against the USA. 

Memorable moment off the pitch

This came during the final game, against USA. A few days earlier, Juan Manuel Leguizamon had officially confirmed the rumour that, at 36, he had reached the end of the road with the Pumas. The last survivor of the generation that won bronze in 2007 said goodbye in his own terms and was given a great send-off by the crowd at Kumagaya.

Memorable moment on the pitch

Montoya, a hooker, ran in three tries in just 40 minutes against Tonga to cement his place in the team.

What next?

Defending against world-class players gave the team headaches and, while improvements in scrums and mauls were added to an already efficient lineout, the Argentine team were never able to control matches for long enough. The first half against France exposed their flaws - they trailed 20-3 at half-time - and while flashes of good rugby were seen at times, they were not enough.

Argentina will have to acknowledge the criticism and learn from their mistakes. Besides Leguizamon's retirement, there are others who will be too old by the start of the next World Cup.

Players like scrum-half Tomas Cubelli, Kremer and Petti are leaders who will mentor newer arrivals like Santiago Carreras, Lucas Mensa, Juan Cruz Mallia and Bautista Delguy. Others such as Domingo Miotti, Bautista Pedemonte and Santiago Chocobares, who have graduated from the U20 team, will also fight for places in France.

Quote of the tournament

"Playing with the shirt of the Pumas is all the motivation that is needed, it comes alone. All my life I dreamed of living moments like these that touched me. I do things with passion, with love and a little bit of madness."
- Leguizamon reflects on his illustrious career

How did they do?

Lost to France 23-21 in Tokyo

Beat Tonga 28-12 in Hanazono

Lost to England 39-10 in Tokyo

Beat USA 47-17 in Kumagaya

Argentina by numbers

11 - The Pumas' Pool C total included three bonus points, and a positive points difference on the pitch of 15.

106 - Argentina's points comprised 14 tries, 12 conversions and four penalties. Montoya scored four of the tries; Sanchez (20 points) finished just ahead of fellow fly-half Urdapilleta (19).

54 - Kremer made the most tackles - 18 more than Petti.

6 - Mallia and Carreras each made six clean breaks, although Mallia played just once, scoring two tries against USA.

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