Pumas primed to seal quarter-final berth
September 27, 2011
Lucas Amorosino crosses in the closing stages of the Pumas' vital win over the Scots © Getty Images
In terms of qualification for the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup, Argentina have already done the hard part in defeating Scotland in Wellington last weekend. Now they just have to finish the job by seeing off Georgia in Palmerston North on Sunday.
Argentina's task is made all the more easier by the fact that they will go into their final Pool B fixture knowing exactly what they need to do to progress as group rivals England and Scotland go head to head in Auckland 24 hours beforehand - another staggering flaw in the tournament's fixture list.
But the debate over whether the final games in any pool should kick off at the same time is of little concern to the Pumas, who will no doubt remain focused on a bonus-point victory over the Georgians irrespective of the outcome of England's meeting with Scotland the day before. The bottom line for the Argentineans is: collect five points and they are in the last eight.
The certainly looked well placed to do that, with head coach Santiago Phelan having arguably named his strongest possible XV for the meeting with the Georgians.
That is hardly surprising, of course, because while Georgia remain somewhat one-dimensional on account of the absence of any truly world-class players behind the scrum, they do possess a group of forwards capable of causing any pack in the world problems - even one as grizzled and experienced as Argentina's.
Consequently, while the flair of Felipe Contepomi and company is likely to see the Pumas through, they will no doubt come out of this game knowing that they have been in a real battle.
Argentina - Player to Watch: The loss of Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe is a hammer blow for the Pumas. Leonardo Senatore has, for this weekend at least, been charged with filling the considerable hole left by the Argentina vice-captain in the back-row. It'll be interesting to see how the No.8 fares against Georgia's fearsome back-row Mamuka Gorgodze.
Argentina - Team News: Leonardo Senatore has been charged with the task of filling the void left by the injured Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe in the Argentina back-row. There are four other changes in personnel to the side which edged out the Scots. Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino has been rewarded for his game-winning try with a start at fullback in place of Martin Rodriguez, while Juan Jose Imhoff comes into the side on the left wing and that sees Horacio Agulla switch to the opposite flank and Gonzalo Camacho drop out. Up front, meanwhile, Marcos Ayerza is preferred at loose-head to Rodrigo Roncero, while Manuel Carizza makes way for Mariano Galarza in the second-row.
Georgia - Player to Watch: The 23-year-old Lasha Khmaladze has yet to nail down a regular berth in the Georgian line-up. He featured on the wing after coming on as a replacement against England before earning a start at fullback against the Romanians. This weekend he will start at fly-half, after being surprisingly selected ahead of Merab Kvirikashvili, who drops to the bench, so Khmaladze is under enormous pressure to bring some direction and innovation to Georgia's play.
Georgia - Team News: Georgia head coach Richie Dixon makes six changes in personnel to the side which saw off Romania. There are just two new faces behind the scrum, though, with Malkhaz Urjukashvili coming in at fullback and Lekso Gugava earning a start on the right wing. In the pack, Vasil Kakovin and Akvsenti Giorgadze are recalled to the front-row, Levan Datunashvili comes into the second-row, while Dimitri Basilaia makes way for Viktor Koleishvili in the back-row. The latter change results in Mamuka Gorgodze moving back to No.8.
Key Battle: These are two nations who pride themselves on their ferocious scrummaging so this promises to be one of the most explosive set-piece showdowns in the entire tournament. If Georgia are to have any chance of causing an upset they must destablise the Pumas scrum and they certainly have the players to do it in Vasil Kakovin, Akvsenti Giorgadze and David Zirakashvili. However, you can be certain that Marcos Ayerza, Mario Ledesma and Juan Figallo will be savour the scrap for set-piece supremacy.
Stats: Going into Wednesday's clash with Romania, Georgia had scored the least amount of points in the tournament - 16
Trivia: Argentina have finished bottom of their Rugby World Cup pool on three of occasions
"We haven't achieved anything yet. But now we are in the driving seat in playing Georgia and trying to get qualification. That's what we're here for."
"We came here to gain the respect of everyone we played against, so we have played a strong team in every match and the tournament and I think we have shown that we have made good progress."
Prediction: Georgia will undoubtedly put it up to the Pumas but the four-day turnaround is likely to takes its toll. The Pumas to cut loose in the second period and claim a bonus-point win.
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