RWC 2019 Pool Game 13: Pumas claim bonus but Tonga hang tough

It was another game of two halves for hot and cold Argentina against Tonga in Osaka yesterday, the Pumas racking up a bonus point by half-time but failing to score in the second half as the ‘Ikale Tahi fought back to go down 28-12.

Having lost their opening clash with France, in a game that saw both teams dominate for a half each, Argentina knew that nothing less than five points would suffice if they were to keep their finals hopes alive. But having shown their attacking prowess and a powerful set-piece to build a formidable lead at the break, with hooker Julian Montoya claiming a hat-trick of tries, they fell away in the second forty as Tonga rediscovered their offensive mojo.

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It was a scrappy opening played out largely in the middle third of the field, with neither side able to make any inroads. A poor decision from Tongan fullback Telusa Veainu, running into traffic with no support instead of clearing upfield, gave the Pumas the option of an easy 3pts from in front. But showing their intent to walk away with a bonus and not just the win, they kicked for touch.

The decision was justified by a terrific lineout play that caught Tonga cold. Initially setting the maul, halfback Tomas Cubelli then ran a dummy line for no.8 Tomas Lezana to arrive unseen and whip the ball back for hooker Julian Montoya to cross in the unguarded corner. Smart and well executed.

Argentina continued to ask questions with Tonga pinned inside their own half for much of the first quarter. But it was another set-piece that cemented the Pumas lead, no subterfuge needed this time as the forwards drove the lineout for Montoya to claim a more traditional second.

They were then gifted a third as the ‘lkale Tahi imploded at the end of the first quarter. Flyhalf James Faiva – in due to the unfortunate tournament-ending injury to veteran Kurt Morath – threw an ill-advised no-look reverse pass on halfway that was picked off by Santiago Carreras, who ran half the field to dot down.

Marcos Kremer and Benjamin Urdapilleta were then both held up over the line as Argentina went in search of the bonus point before half-time. And they got it before the half-hour, the Puma forwards piling on the pressure through the pick and drive, and hooker Montoya bagging his hat-trick from a couple of metres.

That score finally seemed to wake the Tongans up – or switch the Pumas off – as they built phases inside the 22 after a charge down on Urdapilleta. And after their big bodies had softened the Argentine goal line defence, they switched it wide for Veainu to show his worth at the right end of the field with a couple of neat steps to finish.

There was still time for some controversy before the break. Tonga worked their way upfield again and sent it wide for winger David Halaifonua to dive for the corner, only to be barrelled into touch before he grounded. But while the replay correctly proved there was no try, it also appeared to show that Tomas Lavanini had used his left shoulder only to execute the tackle, with his right arm in position to try and wrap, but never making contact.

Seemingly, the decision should have been a yellow card to Lavanini and a penalty try for Tonga. But instead, the TMO and on-field officials colluded to agree that arms were indeed used in the tackle, and blew for half-time. Confusion reigns.

The Pumas looked like they were in for a fifth on 52 minutes, scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli sniping his way over. But the replay showed that fine work from his opposite no. Sonatane Takulua knocked the ball out of his control as he grounded.

Two seismic hits then halted Argentina’s progress as Tonga’s defence stepped up and rediscovered its renowned ferocity. And with half the second stanza gone there had been no further additions to the scoreboard. But that changed in the 65th minute – and how.

Tonga had a scrum put-in just inside the 22, and shifted it wide for Faiva to float a looping cut-out pass wide for replacement Cooper Vuna. The former Wallaby drew in two defenders, before popping a lovely ball out of the back of the hand for the predatory Veainu to dive home superbly in the corner for his second. Game on?

That looked to be the case as the newly-enthused Pacific Islanders continued to carry the fight to their loftier opponents. But just as they looked set to stretch the Argentine line again they coughed up a needless penalty, lock Leva Fifita pinned for a neck roll on Agustin Creevy. However, fellow replacement Nicolas Sanchez couldn’t add the 3pts, and it was Tonga looking the more likely to score up until the final whistle.

A penalty gave them one last shot at glory from a five-metre lineout after the siren. But to the disappointment of them, their supporters, and all the neutrals in the crowd who were happily cheering on the underdogs, Argentina spoilt the throw and touched down in goal to put an end to proceedings.

So the Pumas did get the bonus point win they wanted, and a first victory in 10 attempts is a welcome shot in the arm. But it probably wasn’t in the manner they intended given their half-time advantage, and a 5-0 deficit to their opponent’s in the second forty. Was it enough to worry England ahead of their pivotal clash next weekend?

Tonga meanwhile, can reflect on a much-improved showing after the break. With two losses from two games and France still to come, their tournament is already effectively over. But then again, they do quite like playing Les Bleus…

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ARGENTINA 28 (Julian Montoya 3, Santiago Carreras tries; Benjamin Urdapilleta 4 cons) defeated TONGA 12 (Telusa Veainu 2 tries, Sonatane Takulua con) HT 28-7 at Hanozono Stadium, Osaka

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